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Laramie Movie Scope:

Utopian society where emotions are forbidden

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by Patrick Ivers, Film Critic
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(1965, b/w; Alphaville, une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution, French) Posing as Ivan Johnson, a journalist from the Outlands, Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constantine), secret agent 003, wearing a trench coat and brimmed hat, checks into a hotel in the futuristic city of Alphaville, 9,000 km from his planet.

A hostess, Beatrice, seductress 3rd class, offers to bathe with him; a man barges into the room, attempting to attack him, which he later leans was a psycho-test. "All things weird are normal in this whore of cities," he declares.

Lemmy's assignment is to find and bring back Professor Leonard Vonbraun (Howard Vernon), formerly known as Dr Nosferatu of Los Alamos, inventor of the death ray, "alive, or liquidate." But first he intends to locate Henri Dickson (Akim Tamiroff). Miss Natasha Vonbraun (Anna Karina) comes to the hotel room with an offer to take him to the gala reception of the city's annual festival.

As they walk down the hotel corridor, listening to her explanation of providing services for visitors, Johnson asks with incredulity: "You never have love affairs?... Has no one ever fallen in love with you?" "In love?" she replies: "What is that?"

A legend can make complex reality easier to communicate in director/writer Jean-Luc Godard's sci-fi drama of a utopian society, in which asking "why" rather than saying "because" is forbidden, sometimes employing film negatives in scenes. Neon signs of "hf=mc2" and its alternative equivalent "E=mc2" flash momentarily throughout the film.

Dickson lives at the Red Star Hotel on Enrico Fermi, after Heisenberg Blvd, not far from Mathematical Park. On the drive, Natasha, repeating in her "pretty sphinx voice" what she's been taught, tells Johnson, who asks her if Prof Vonbraun is her father (yes, though she's never seen him): "No one's lived in the past or will live in the future."

When Dickson arrives at the Red Star, Johnson gives him US currency with which Henri pays for his room key and a seductress. Many people who cannot adapt to Alphaville's highly organized lifestyle, from which all artists have been eliminated, commit suicide; others who behave illogically are executed. With is dying breath, Henri begs Johnson to make Alpha 60 self-destruct.

The seductress drives Johnson to the south district where he enters the Central Memory complex of Alpha 60's logic organization. "The present is the form of all life," declares the computer, describing life and death as a circular pattern. Words change meanings, or meanings change words.

Next Lemmy travels to the north district where he joins Natasha for a display of executions performed at a swimming pool with girls diving into the water where the victims fall after being shot. Natasha says to Johnson, taking photographs of people getting shot for expressing their emotions: "Isn't that a crime in the Outlands?"

In an elevator, as Lemmy tries to speak to Prof Vonbraun alone, he's prevented by a couple of thugs who beat him senseless. When Natasha sees him, tears flow, though she denies she's crying because that is forbidden. Interrogated by Alpha 60 ("working for universal good"), Johnson after answering the questions hears the mechanical voice pronounce: "You are hiding certain things."

In answer to Johnson's inquiry about Dr Nosferatu, he's told that the scientist, who was exiled from the Outlands in 1964, no longer exists, only Professor Vonbraun. Johnson is introduced to Professors Jeckell and Heckell, who expect a war with the Outlands, so Johnson could be useful.

Back in his hotel room, Lemmy finds Natasha waiting for him, admitting: "When I'm with you, I'm afraid." He reads poetry to her from The Capital of Pain by French surrealist poet Paul Éluard. Among the words she doesn't comprehend - words disappear every day, replaced by new words, confusing communication - is "conscience"; she searches the room for a Bible, which when she finds it ("conscience" not in it) is actually a dictionary.

Alpha 60 tries to bribe Johnson with an offer of his taking charge of a galaxy with its gold and women; he poses a riddle to the computer: "If you find it, you will destroy yourself simultaneously because you will become my kin, my brother."

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Copyright © 2015 Patrick Ivers. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Patrick Ivers can be reached via e-mail at nora's email address at juno. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

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