Jean-Luc Godard’s Noir Alphaville Returns to the Big Screen


There is not a more intoxicating loading dose of uncut movieness available on New York screens at the moment than Jean-Luc Godard’s famous hyper-sci-fi-meta-noir, which skylarks about an absurd dystopian future in the wet streets of 1965 Paris.

All totemic genre gestures all the time, the movie tracks trench-coated secret agent Lemmy Caution (aging frogface Eddie Constantine, who had played the character straight in a series of cheap French potboilers) as he enters the citadel of Alphaville, a metropolis controlled by a giant (and possibly mad) computer, looking for its programmer and the key to its destruction.

Everything is a dislocated signifier of totalitarian confusion — language, institutional sex, assassination attempts, scientific lingo, modernist architecture, bureaucracy, human emotion (officially outlawed, but shruggingly prevalent), Anna Karina’s luminous eyes.

But it’s all also a Godardian gag, a riff on artifice and the blithe joy of cinematic bullshit. Iconic in its very grain, the film toggles effortlessly between toast-dry farce and vogueing postwar hipitude, and like the balletic swimmers performing mid-pool state executions, it’s a thing of insensible beauty.

In the day, seeing and internalizing Alphaville was a generational pedigree, a ticket to the edge of epochal supercoolness, back when that meant changing the world. So welcome back, the Central Memory, Tokyorama, and Professor Nosferatu. I’m very well, thank you so much.