He says his name is Ivan Johnson, inquisitive journalist for Figaro-Pravda, Instamatic camera always at the ready. In truth he’s Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constantine), pistol-packing secret agent from the Outlands on a mission to infiltrate Alphaville, a city of human drones lorded over by the sentient computer Alpha 60. Plot be damned, though: This is, after all, a Jean-Luc Godard production-cum-provocation—now released in a new restoration—and the director was working from a hastily thrown-together script anyway. What really matters is the atmosphere, rife with ominous shadows (courtesy ace DP Raoul Coutard, turning Paris circa 1965 into an ultra-convincing dystopia) and populated by those two quintessential Godard elements: girls and guns.
The chief gal is the director’s always-alluring muse, Anna Karina, as Natacha, semi-spaced-out daughter of Howard Vernon’s mysterious Professor von Braun (a.k.a. Leonard Nosferatu—one of the multiple extra-narrative references that are a gleeful constant in Godard’s cinema). You’ll also spot Sam Fuller’s soon-to-be wife, Christa Lang, as a treacherous Seductress Third Class, nouvelle vague favorite Jean-Pierre Léaud mischeivously popping up as a hotel waiter, and Orson Welles staple Akim Tamiroff lending weary gravitas as Caution’s disgraced former colleague.
Karina proves to be the beating heart of the movie, getting its piercing last line (no spoilers here). Yet it’s Constantine’s ravaged mug that you remember. The singer-turned-actor had played Caution in several popular genre films adapted from British writer Peter Cheyney’s series of crime novels. But outside of some cheeky cameos and a last ghostly gasp in JLG’s postmodern film essay Germany Year 90 Nine Zero (1991), Alphaville proved to be the character’s melancholy swan song—having evolved from hard-boiled womanizer to fatigued symbol of disenchantment, the mystery man vanished into the noirish gloom that previously sustained him.
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