The reason I can never be a film scholar is because I cannot appreciate the works of Jean-Luc Godard, a French filmmaker widely considered to be one of the greatest directors of all time. Godard is one of the founding members of the French New Wave, a cinematic movement created by a group of French filmmakers in the 1950s and 1960s. These filmmakers were influenced by Italian Neorealism and classical Hollywood cinema. Like Lars Von Trier and his Dogme 95 movement, the French New Wave rejected the conventions of traditional Hollywood cinema. Godard’s films, in particular, were the most extreme of the New Wave films as he injected political ideologies in his movies.

An interesting blend of science fiction and film noir, Alphaville is one of Godard’s most famous films. Eddie Constantine plays Lemmy Caution (Constantine was famous for starring in a series of French B movies in which he played secret agent Lemmy Caution), a detective who is sent to a city, Alphaville, controlled by a giant computer that represses any freedom of thought or individuality. Caution’s mission is to destroy the computer.

Although Alphaville is considered to have laid the foundation for such sci-fi classics as Blade Runner, The Terminator, and The Matrix, this does not have the same entertainment value as its successor films did. However, I’ll give credit to where credit is due. This film is perhaps the first film to combine sci-fi and film noir. Godard was a huge fan of film noir and he pays homage to the genre throughout his film. Eddie Constantine’s Lemmy Caution was the French counterpart to Humphrey Bogart right down to the signature trench coat and cigarette. Early in the film, Caution meets his soon-to-be love interest (the beautiful and frequent Godard star Anna Karina), who is made to look and act like the sultry dames of film noir.

As Alphaville was made in the 60s, its no surprise that its science-fiction narrative explores the same themes introduced in Brave New World and 1984, both of which were influential novels in the 1960s. The central computer in Alphaville, Alpha 60, is the equivalent of Big Brother. Emotion and desire are replaced by cold, cruel logic. Independent thinking is forbidden as citizens of Alphaville are conditioned to never question anything. Even though Alphaville is set in another galaxy in the future, I liked Godard’s choice (probably more out of financial necessity than aesthetic choice) to use modern/contemporary buildings in Paris to convey Alphaville’s dystopian environment. There are no elaborate sets or special effects. The interior and exterior locations are geometrically perfect, sterile, and cold. Coupled with Godard’s minimalist approach, they appropriately reflect the logical ordering of Alphaville’s society and its intolerance for any human emotion.

All of this makes Alphaville sound like an interesting and entertaining film and it certainly has its loyalists out there in cinephile-land. However, I am not one of them. For those who know me, I detest movies that merely appeal to our basest desires and play down an audiences’ intelligence. I expect a certain level of sophistication in my movies and my expectations have led me to enjoy some truly wonderful avant-garde cinema. Alphaville and Godard’s other films fall in this avant-garde category. Godard doesn’t bother himself with giving his audience conventional storylines or even to entertain them. His movies are meant to make you question the state of your society. He litters his films with philosophical quotes and his characters engage in deep meaningful existential discussions. This is where my issues with Godard’s style lies.

Unfortunately, I didn’t see Alphaville when it was originally released (I wasn’t even born yet). I wish I had because I believe I may have actually enjoyed it or least appreciated it for what it tries to be. Although its message is transcendental and applicable to our present society just as much as it was during the 1960s, Alphaville‘s method or style of delivering its message comes off as self-indulgent and in-your-face. Maybe it was unique and daring to have a film be so upfront with its politics and message to the point of relegating its story to near irrelevancy. However, today’s cinematic standards have changed and I think Godard’s style is now more cliche and comical than the high-minded seriousness he was trying to accomplish with Alphaville.

Alphaville is an influential film and there is no doubting that. However, this doesn’t mean I have to like it. Like Lars Von Trier, Jean-Luc Godard strikes me as a filmmaker who doesn’t really care about his audience. He makes films strictly for himself as if its some form of self-therapy. For that, I have never been able to appreciate his works and I regard them as too self-important. This is a film thats strictly for the art circle snobs who like their films to stray from convention just for the sake of being different.