Sunday, December 18, 2011


This 1965 film by French director Jean-Luc Godard has been one of my all-time favorite high-minded low-budget features since reaching my eyes and ears as a teen.  Subtitled "A Strange Adventure of Lemmy Caution",  this science fiction/film noir/pulp hybrid embraces and morphs the conventions of all those genres to create something far darker,  funnier,  and more touching than any of them.  Eddie Constantine plays intergalactic secret agent  Lemmy Caution, a melancholy pock-faced romantic who somehow manages to combine pulp menace with poetry.   The stunningly beautiful Anna Karina plays Natasha Vonbraun as a slowly awakening mannequin.  She portrays the daughter of Professor Vonbraun,  the creator of Alpha 60,  an omnipotent computer that has Alphaville in its complete control,  and has barred all emotion,  art,  and poetry from within its borders.  Those artists,  writers,  and lovers who seem to be acting illogically by Alpha 60's strict standards are gathered up and executed by poolside assassins (which include a bevy of knife-wielding bathing beauties).  Lemmy Caution arrives from the Outlands with orders to return Professor Vonbraun  to Nueva York,  and if he resists,  kill him.  During his first meeting/interrogation with Alpha 60,  the computer asks Caution a question that will later prove  the techno-god's Achille's Heel:

                           Alpha 60:  Do you know what illuminates the night?

                           Lemmy Caution:  Poetry.

It is just that,   the expansive (and in this case,  explosive)  illogic of poetry (use of quotations from Jorge Louis Borges and Surrealist poet Paul Eluard) that throws Alphaville and its inhabitants terminally off-balance.  Caution carries a copy of the latter poet's CAPITALE DE LA DOULEUR along with his gun like some sort of warrior/poet.  It is in this role that Caution serves up a riddle for Alpha 60 that proves unanswerable through logical pondering or file searching.  Caution ends this encounter by stating:
                            If you find it,  you will destroy yourself simultaneously
                            because you will become my kin,  my brother.

At long last,  Professor Vonbraun dead,  Alpha 60 nullified,  and Alphaville in the state of chaos,  Lemmy Caution finds Natasha in order to bring her back to the Outlands.  Here,  amid the violence  (Caution shoots several agents, steals a car and even runs over the owner's head for good measure), Godard shows himself both the optimist and the romantic,  as Lemmy and Natasha speed toward emotional freedom and love's unreason.  This film has none of the special effects 21st century viewers  expect from such a movie,  which ultimately helps the film focus on ideas rather than explosions,  and allows us to luxuriate in its narrative,  visual,  and conceptual quirkiness, or  as Alpha 60 says at the beginning of Alphaville:

                             Sometimes reality is too complex for oral communication.

1 comment:

  1. and the owner of the car is Godard himself.

    there's an english translation of Capitale De La Douleur available now

    great to see any mention of this fantastic movie