ALPHAVILLE is a place in a future that will never exist. It doesn't have the sci-fi shine of Star Trek or the grimy tech of Star Wars; the closest Alphaville gets to any other science-fiction film is Blade Runner. That isn't surprising, given that both films—beneath all the futurespeak and dystopia—are noirs. A new, digital restoration of Jean-Luc Godard's 1965 film is screening this week at Cinema 21, and if it's been a while since you visited this strange, dark place—or if you never have—this is the way to do it.
In Alphaville, Godard takes tough investigator Lemmy Caution—played here by Eddie Constantine, in a role he played in a slew of other films—and shoves him into a disconcerting pseudo-future. Caution finds himself in Alphaville, tasked with tracking down a missing man, but it isn't long until he's grappling with the menacing entities—both human and not—who control the place, having stripped emotion and freedom from the populace. Likewise, it isn't long until Caution finds himself alongside the most intriguing member of that populace, Natacha von Braun. (Von Braun is played by Anna Karina, an actress who, I am only moderately embarrassed to admit, is so beautiful that she brings about Alphaville's biggest flaw: Whenever she's onscreen, it's impossible to look at anyone or anything else, including the subtitles.)
Decades after Alphaville was made—and Breathless was made, and Band of Outsiders was made, and whatever other Godard films you want to remember were made—it can be hard to drill through the ossified crust of reverence and influence that has grown over Godard's work. (Extra credit if, before seeing Alphaville, you take the time to reread Haruki Murakami's After Dark.) But the surprising, welcoming thing about this restoration is how quickly such barriers fade: Alphaville is a haunting, fascinating place. It'll suck you in, just as it does Caution.