22 june 2007

Still, Alphaville, Godard

"This dump of yours isn't Alphaville, it's Zeroville" shouts the tetchy protagonist. And such is the gravitational pull of this film on first viewing that the rest of cinema seems like Zeroville indeed. It's like a neutron star or an imploded katamari, packed full of references, portmanteaus of plot and history and semiotics. At any moment what's on screen is setting off bombs in your head, large and small (Oh, Eddie Constantine chain-smoking has Kurt Vonnegut's eyes). There are delicious cameos by Jean-Pierre LĂ©aud - on-screen for all of two and a half seconds - and Akim Tamiroff, whose sad expressive face lasts a little longer before his character's rubbed out by a computer-controlled Class Three Seductress.
There are strong echoes of Tati's Mon Oncle, made seven years before in 1958. Superficially Lemmy Caution is Tati's character, with permanent hat and raincoat, juggling cigarettes and a gun instead of a pipe. Both stand bemused in the vast foyers of modernist space-age Paris, the director lovingly poking fun at the architecture. Both come from the Lands Without; and as in Alphaville's universe, the inhabitants of Mon Oncle's New Paris are constrained in emotion and thought, unaware of the largesse of the real world outside.
Also Rivette's Celine and Julie Go Boating, where the villa's inhabitants are unable to see or hear outsiders, and indulge in slow-motion arm flailing ("Aidez-moi . . . au secours . . .") reminiscent of the strange movements of Alphaville's population once Alpha 60 has melted down. Sad though that Godard seems to have associated technology with science: Alphaville's streets are named after the great physicists of paradox: Fermi, Heisenberg, don't they deserve better?