GERMANY YEAR 90 NINE ZERO
Allemagne neuf zero
Director/Screenplay: Jean-Luc Godard
Production co: Brainstorm
Producer: Nicole Ruelle
Cinematography: Christophe Pollock, Andreas Erben, Stephen Benda
Editor: Jean-Luc Godard
Sound: Pierre-Alain Besse, Francois Musy
Music: Bryars, Scelsi, Liszt, Mozart, Bach, Stravinsky, Hindemeth, Beethoven, Shostakovich
16mm/Black and White & Colour/In German with English subtitles
Lemmy Caution: Eddie Constantine
Count Zelten: Hanns Zischler
Charlotte/Dora: Claudia Michelsen
Delphine de Stael: Nathalie Kadem
Narrator: Andre S. Labarthe
Don Quixote: Robert Wittmers
Germany Year 90 Nine Zero, the sequel to Godard’s popular 1965 film Alphaville, catches up with Lemmy Caution in East Berlin after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The last spy of the Cold War emerges from the small East German town where he was planted as a mole fifty years ago. As he travels through a wintry landscape of mislaid memories trying to make his way back towards a West busy decorating its well-stocked shop windows for Christmas, he encounters other displaced agents and ghosts of Germany’s past, who, like him, are trying to reorient themselves in a landscape where History has come to an end.
Commissioned by French television to make a film about a state of solitude, Godard chose instead to make a film about the solitude of state. A moving and eloquent meditation in the form of musical variations on the end of history, memory and the cultural legacy of Germany’s past, Germany Year 90 Nine Zero uses the form of a spy thriller to paint a brilliant, poetic portrait of collective ennui following the end of an era.
“Germany in the year 1990 or the new Germany in the year zero: the double meaning of the title is deliberate and suggests the complexity, which is full of intent, and the ambiguity of Godard’s enigmatic film essay. In six variations on loneliness and the condition of a state, with headings such as ‘All Dragons of Our Lives’ or ‘The Wall Without Wailing’, the former ‘novelle vague’ director, whose name is not mentioned as usual in the opening and closing credits of his later work, investigates the situation of German-German relations one year after the fall of the Wall. In his search for clues he reactivates the secret agent Lemmy Caution from his film Alphaville, A Strange Adventure of Lemmy Caution (1965), a character who Eddie Constantine plays again in his inimitable way. Lemmy who has been missing since the conference in Casablanca, is living as a mole on call under a false name in the former GDR and sets off on a journey from East to West to the interior of the German character between Goethe and Buchenwald. The enigmatic film is both an unconventional mystery and puzzle game, a typical Godardian mesh full of fragments and associations.
“In Alphaville his 1965 ‘sci-fi’ film, Jean Luc-Godard introduced Lemmy Caution, a granite-faced special agent who crossed intergalactic space to confront a world run by a computer, while Godard embarked on the more abstract approach that would mark his later films. It was a tale of alienation and conformity, but more about the modern world than any futuristic fantasy.
“In Germany Year 90 Nine Zero Lemmy Caution is back. Older, brittler, he’s the ‘last spy’ returning from the cold of East Germany and facing a world that’s heading full-bore into an orgy of consumerism. It’s a contemporary tale—if, in its collage style, it can be called a tale—as well as a prophesy.
“Godard, whose film employs so many obscure literary and cinematic references it should be released in an annotated edition, sees Germany as the conscience of the world, in a way. Using stock footage, some of it from concentration camps, he portrays that country as a laboratory of forgetfulness. How can the world recall, or never forget, the last crisis when there’s a new one brewing? His use of anachronistic elements—camp victims, fin-de-siécle socialites, Lemmy, a vendor of Hollywood souvenirs—makes the case for convenient memory.
“For his part, Lemmy is a walking recrimination, both of the West (‘Which way is the West?’ he bellows and gets no answers) and of art. Particularly of Godard’s art: Whatever cinema has attempted has failed, he says, otherwise the world wouldn’t be in the shape it’s in. The failures of his medium have become a regular theme in Godard’s more recent work. Germany itself occasionally feels like a lovely exercise in futility.
“At the same time, Godard creates beautiful pictures, even if they are, at the same time, another kind of recrimination. His pacing varies wildly but assumes a musicality that’s invigorating. It’s Godard’s painterly ability to merge the disparate elements he uses—including allusions to his own work—into an emotionally fulfilling whole that sets him apart.
“Back in 1966, the year after Alphaville, Godard made Masculin/Feminin, which was a pointed portrait of a particular place and time and the ‘children of Marx and Coca-Cola.’ Germany Year 90 Nine Zero, too is about a specific time and place in this metamorphosis of the world. But his characters, this time are merely the misbegotten offspring of Coca-Cola.” — John Anderson, New York PM
“It figures that if Jean-Luc Godard, the reigning film provocateur of the 60s, were to make a sequel to one of his movies, it would take him 25 years to do so. Made in 1991, Germany Year 90 Nine Zero is a follow-up to his 1965 ‘spy thriller’ Alphaville. As before, Godard's protagonist is Lemmy Caution (once again played by Eddie Constantine in what turned out to be his last role). Though Caution is now older and wearier and the topography of his face has grown even craggier, he seems much the same as when we last saw him in '65. Europe, however, has become a much different place and it now holds no purpose for an undercover mole. With a reunited Germany and an increasingly solidified European continent, Lemmy Caution may be the true spy who came in from the cold. Without a Cold War, what's a spy in the East to do? Freed from his post, like one of those oblivious Japanese soldiers discovered in remote island foxholes years after the war was declared over, Caution is suddenly a man without a mission, a man whose very identity has been torn from his hull. The movie, which was made for French television, was commissioned as a film about the state of solitude. As a movie, Germany Year 90 Nine Zero is better characterized as a situation rather than a story. Essentially, the 62-minute-long movie follows Caution who, relieved of his duties, tries to find his way back to the West. As he traverses the wintry landscape, he asks directions from a motorist in a stalled vehicle and a Don Quixote figure perched by a windmill. No one knows. Meanwhile, Caution encounters signs of commerce everywhere, as shoppers and storekeepers busy themselves with Christmas trade. Interspersed throughout are voiceovers by Godard and others and title cards with purely linguistic stimuli. As is his style, Godard's musings span a spectrum that goes from silly to visionary. This movie ranks with some of Godard's best work (it made several critics' ‘top 10’ lists in 1992), but it probably requires some prior familiarity with Godard's previous films in order to recognize that fact.” — Marjorie Baumgarten, Austin Chronicle
“Shot in 1990, in the wake of the collapse of the Berlin Wall, Germany Year 90 Nine Zero traces the footsteps of one Lemmy Caution (the late Eddie Constantine, reprising his Alphaville role) as he makes his way west from East Germany, where he’s lived for 30 years. Dubbed "the last spy," Caution is a relic among the ruins of history. As he travels through the countryside, Godard invokes the names of one German past (Bach, Schiller), even as he summons up another past both real and imagined (Hitler, The Damned). Funny, ironic, brilliant and unbearably sad, the voyage is at once a form of radical historiography and resistance. Like Godard, Caution is journeying through a landscape crowded with remembrance, one that finally leads to a Berlin hotel room where a chambermaid fluffs the pillows, smiles bleakly and utters, ‘Work makes you free.’ Film may be at its end, and history too, but not memory, not art, not Godard.” — Manohla Dargis, LA Weekly
“In a class by itself… A melancholy meditation on history and the end of the world as we know it through movies. The first film of Godard’s old age, it’s as formally brilliant—and as aleatory and compulsive—as his great films of the mid 60s.” — Amy Taubin, Village Voice
“New-wave warrior Jean-Luc Godard, the critic to turned filmmaker in 1959 with Breathless and became an influential and exasperating voice in world cinema, ignites another powder keg in this sequel to his 1965 futuristic thriller, Alphaville. Eddie Constantine, in his final role, again plays detective-spy Lemmy Caution, but Godard uses this Cold War parable to consider the fucked-up lessons of history as the millennium approaches. The result is comic, poetic and haunting.” — Peter Travers, Rolling Stone
supported by Goethe Society