For July’s Genre Grandeur, the theme is “French Film Noir”. Originally, I was going to review a film released within the Breen Code Era, as I’ve been participating in Pure Entertainment Preservation Society’s Clean Movie Month. But anytime I searched for a French film noir title that premiered between 1934 and 1954, the movie was either too expensive to purchase or unavailable to rent. So instead, I chose to review the 1965 film, Alphaville, as I was able to rent it. In my review of Alice in the Cities, I said that out of all the movies I’ve seen and/or reviewed that were created outside of North America, most of them came from Europe. The majority of these films were released from France. While researching Alphaville, I learned that the movie is labeled as a science fiction story. As someone who has seen both film noir and sci-fi movies, I was curious to see what a story with this specific genre combination would look like.
Things I liked about the film:
The acting: Because I’ve seen a limited number of French films, I wasn’t familiar with these actors and actresses. However, I thought the acting performances in Alphaville were good! Eddie Constantine’s portrayal of Lemmy Caution reminded me of the performances I’ve seen from John Wayne. What I mean by this is Eddie presented his character with a tough and masculine exterior, but allowed emotion to break through that exterior. He also adopted a “no nonsense” attitude that worked for a story of this nature. Anna Karina also gave a performance that worked for this story! She incorporated a gentleness to her portrayal of Natacha von Braun. This can be heard through her soft-spoken voice and seen through her caring nature. Throughout her performance, Anna displayed emotions in a subtle way. In one scene, when Lemmy is being arrested, Natacha can be seen crying as silently as possible. Despite appearing in the film for less than five scenes, I liked watching Akim Tamiroff’s portrayal of Henri Dickson! The best part about it was how believable it was. A good example of this is any time Henri was experiencing a heart attack, as pain could be seen in his face.
The cinematography: There were some scenes in Alphaville that were shot in interesting ways! This was accomplished by applying various film-making techniques. When Lemmy was walking to a particular location, a continuous shot followed Lemmy to his destination. A perfect example can be found toward the beginning of the film, when Lemmy is being led toward his hotel room. For scene transitions, flashing lights were incorporated to signify a bridge between scenes. After Alphaville’s computer, Alpha 60, is finished explaining one of the city’s many beliefs, a neon sign of a math equation flashes until a scene involving Lemmy begins. Toward the end of the movie, some scenes were presented using an infrared light. This was to show a glitch in Alphaville’s technological system.
The film’s sci-fi world: When most people think of the science fiction genre, fantastical worlds with elaborate costumes, set designs, and makeup are usually what come to mind. For Alphaville, the creative team purposefully chose to film in real-life locations. This decision causes the titular city to appear grounded in reality. The science fiction elements of this story were woven into the behaviors of the citizens and the beliefs they hold. Using what they already had to create a science fiction narrative allowed the movie’s creative team to submit a film that goes against the genre’s norm.
What I didn’t like about the film:
The film’s science fiction ideas: In a typical science fiction film, the sci-fi ideas are presented as understandable enough for the audience to know what’s happening on screen. This was unfortunately not the case for Alphaville. The ideas associated with this story were so high-concept and complex, that I found myself not understanding what the characters were talking about most of the time. It also doesn’t help that the characters fail to provide clearer explanations for these ideas. This feels like the creative team expected the audience to know what was being discussed before they saw the movie.
Lack of context: In my review of The Crow, I talked about how questions emerged without an answer or an elaboration being provided. This is the exact same mistake that the creative team behind Alphaville made. The majority of female characters in the 1965 picture can be seen with number tattoos. No context is given for why they have this type of tattoo or the meaning behind the tattoo itself. In one scene, Lemmy and Natacha are attending a gathering where people who disobey Alphaville’s beliefs are being punished. Natacha explains how there are more men than women who get punished at these gatherings. She never gives further explanation for why this is the case. Because of the lack of context, it adds to the story’s overarching confusion.
No sense of urgency: Film noir movies usually have a slower pace. This is done on purpose to flesh out the overall story. However, there is an underlying sense of urgency. While watching Alphaville, I could not detect any amount of urgency in the story. For most of the film, Lemmy could be seen in his hotel room, roaming around the city, or visiting the Alpha 60 headquarters on rare occasions. Even though he resolves the film’s conflict, this doesn’t happen until about the last twenty minutes.
My overall impression:
I like participating in Movierob’s Genre Grandeur blogathon because it gives me an opportunity to see films that I may not have watched otherwise. This is certainly the case for this month’s selection, Alphaville. A combination of sci-fi and film noir was something I hadn’t seen before. But I found it to be an interesting contribution to both genres. The world presented in this story is not always found in sci-fi narratives. Bringing a newer idea to the table is what basing the world in a more realistic setting did. Cinematography was also a highlight of this project. It gave the film’s creative team a chance to experiment with different film-making techniques. However, the overall story was just ok. This was caused by confusing science fiction ideas and a lack of context. The majority of content from this story flew over my head, as I didn’t understand what the characters were talking about most of the time. I was frustrated by the overall project because I wasn’t able to grasp the concepts within Alphaville.
Overall score: 6.1 out of 10
Have you seen any French film noirs? Are there any movies from this specific genre you’d like to see me review? Please tell me in the comment section!
Have fun at the movies!