Les Flâneuses Inadvertentes:
Meaningful Glances, Sure Steps in Varda and Godard

Introduction: More and Less Than Meets the Eye

1

In this paper I will discuss the relationship between movement and engagement—both literal
and psychological—of two women as they make their way through their respective cities.
The two characters—Cleo, in Agnes Varda’s Cleo de 5 a 7,1 and Natasha Von Braun, née
Nosferatu, in Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville, une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution2—appear, at
first glance, strikingly different—as do the representations of the cities they inhabit. What I
hope to show is that the differences are largely a matter of window-dressing. What’s’ more, we
will see that although both women set out from different points, they will arrive at the same
destination. A place that, while less physical than psychological, and more social than political, is
nonetheless no less real for its lack of geography.

I will also argue that, appearances to the contrary, both Varda and Godard use similar means
and techniques to create their imaginary cities. Varda’s Paris, while true to French New Wave
neo-realistic concerns, proves, on closer inspection, to be a metaphorical construction, no more
“real” than the “Tativille,” constructed by Jacques Tati to represent his Paris in Playtime (1967).
Which is to say that despite her use of Cinéma vérité and documentary tropes and motifs,
Varda gives us a cinematic Paris. Godard follows many of the same dictates as Varda—location
shots, including existing streets, garages and commercial buildings, few sets and inexpensive
details—however, he “re-fashions” these elements so that they conform to the visual
conventions found in Noir, Suspense and, in respect to this film, Science Fiction narratives.

2

Of the two representations of the city, I find Varda’s Paris the more imaginative, not least
because it is more charming. However, the charm on display here is deceptive. Varda sets her
feminist fairytale in Paris, not only to exploit its romantic heart, but also to subvert the romantic
notions invariably associated with the city. In Cleo, Varda inverts the famous City of Light into
an ominous City of the Shadow of Death.

Godard also uses the city as a symbol of imminent violence and sudden death, although in his
story the city’s role, as brute, henchman or assassin, is perfectly in keeping with a viewer’s
expectations of the film genres he has appropriated. However, this is not to say that Alphaville is
not without charm—it is often very amusing. In fact, Godard’s tongue-in-cheek use/abuse of
genre clichés adds an unexpected measure of wit, as well as considerable fun, to his film,
particularly in the person of Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constantine).

However, Godard’s less-than-serious approach to his “serious” themes (the
dehumanizing effects of technology, the threat of monolithic political systems, etc.) suggests to
me one significant difference between the two auteurs’ representations of the city. Varda’s
intends her Paris to be perceived as a real city and one that Cleo must actually negotiate to
ultimately find/save herself. Godard’s Alphaville, for all its totalitarian wrappings and menace, is
no Foucaultian “disciplinary society.” Godard is not playing Cassandra, and although he gives us
hierarchy, surveillance and control, these terrors are not particularly frightening. (Dr. Von
Braun is as effective a dictator as the Wizard of Oz was a wizard.) Taken as a whole, Godard’s
futuristic city is a backdrop—it might as well have been filmed in a studio.

Nevertheless, both directors have created cities that pose grave dangers to their heroines.
Love, and the life it represents, is as much at risk in Varda’s Paris as it is in Godard’s dystopian
metropolis. Cleo and Natasha both have reasons to be afraid, but not everything that threatens
them is real—there are also hints and suggestions of something fearful, which produce a
disorienting sense of the uncanny. We see this when Cleo plays her song in the café and no one
pays attention—Is she already a ghost? —and in the recurring appearance of menacing street
performers. Godard layers effects that one could say are intended to induce a feeling of the
uncanny. These include lighting that distorts rather than illuminates and montages and intercuts
that presage a certain inevitability

3

Finally, I will explore both directors’ representations of their female leads. At first glance they
appear to be two beautiful if passive cinematic creatures that are often framed and posed in a
manner that accentuates their beauty. Varda, who trained as a photographer, brings a VOGUE
magazine sensibility to her camera work. (I believe she acknowledges this in a playful moment
where she appropriates Stanley Donen’s grand staircase scene in the film Funny Face (1957).)
In a series of shots that prefigures certain postmodern conceits, we see a momentarily carefree
and blissfully alone Cleo as she struts down steps in a park. (Here, Varda plays Fred Astaire
playing Richard Avedon.)

Godard, lacking Varda’s aesthetic grace and spontaneity, depicts the stunning Natasha in more
literary terms, which is to say she seems more written into existence that photographed. The
difference may be due to gender—a female Pygmalion will craft a different Galatea than her male
counterpart. I will simply say here that Godard brings not only a man’s sensibility but that of a
film critic as well. It may be worth noting here that Godard, who treats almost everything his
film touches on ironically, treats love with the respect it’s due, which is why I believe that
Natasha is the real hero of his film. In choosing love, not sensuality, she is literally choosing life.
(In this sense, Lemmy Caution, like Antoine in Cleo, is both an object of love—something seen
outside the self—as well as a destination or a real place, i.e., arms in which to take shelter.)

Although we are introduced to Cleo as she waits to hear her fortune, and we first meet
Natasha as she waits for her cigarette to be lit, it is their movement, particularly their passage
through the city, which is critical to the development of both. I will proceed with this line of
thinking by taking a leap of interpretation. I suggest that Cleo and Natasha can be best
understood as Flâneuses—female versions of the Flâneur. (Regarding Cleo: Her antics and
frolicking in the first half of her film are deceptive, a simulacrum of real movement—where she
moves through time and not through space—and for this reason, I will only rarely refer to the
first half of Cleo, which I think functions, per se, to get Cleo on the street.)

Flâneuse? While tradition ascribes this role to men—a man may walk the streets freely, but a
woman who freely walks the streets is a streetwalker—I will attempt to show that both Cleo
and Natasha save their lives via the act of Flâneurie. The key idea here is transformation,
particularly as we would not have characterized either woman as a Flâneuse based on our first
impressions of them.

To the contrary, up until her moment of crisis, Cleo was an object offered up to the
city’s gaze. (And, in a nod to Narcissus, the object of her own gaze, too, as when she observes,
“As long as I’m beautiful, I’m alive.”) Natasha, too, is defined and directed by others and could
be described, at first glance, as an automaton, functionally pretty, operating on autopilot.
As I discuss their transformations, I will also discuss the crucial differences between the Flâneur
and the Flâneuse. As one might anticipate, the Flâneuse, unlike her male counterpart, cannot be
too detached from the ultimate object of her gaze. To paraphrase Lemmy Caution, pleasure
may be a “consequence” of her gaze, but it is not its raison d’être. Love is its raison d’être.

City Under a Cloud

Our unconscious is still as unreceptive as ever to the idea of our own mortality.
Sigmund Freud, “The Uncanny”

1

We are in Paris; it is the first day of summer. The streets, shops and cafes are filled with life:
infants and ancients and everyone in between. People are at work and at play and…death is in
the air. Literally, in the air—in cafés and in taxis, radio signals carry news of the civil war in
Algeria and of accidents where workers, overcome by gas, drown in sewers. Only Edith Piaf is
saved by a “miracle.” This is the city where Agnes Varda sets her contemporary fairytale.

Jean Godard set his dystopian future in the city. While there are Wurlitzers, there are
no radios. What one listens to is the disembodied drone of Alpha 60, the computer that
structures consciousness in Alphaville, just as the radio does in Varda’s affluent, post-war Paris.
Death is here, too—in the threat of intergalactic war. (Which also takes place in the air.)
What’s more, the legendary Lemmy Caution has arrived to kill Dr. Von Braun. What we will
soon learn is that he will also save the life of Von Braun’s daughter, Natasha.

Why do these stories take place in the city?

I don’t believe either director had another choice of location.

It’s the early 1960s and the city is central to modern narratives. As we saw in La Notte and, as I
wrote about in La Dolce Vita, the post-war city had become our home, and the non-urban world
was increasingly identified with either nostalgia or with the idea of de-colonization—Algeria,
Vietnam and sub-Saharan Africa. (The word nostalgia is intentional. One can’t go home again
because, to borrow from Gertrude Stein, there is no there, there, anymore. Which is why it
would be pointless for a modern filmmaker to make another Sunrise (1927). 6)
To be modern, which is to be relevant—especially to the audiences for these films—is also to
be urban. (There must be advertisements, shops, cafés, Chinese restaurants, traffic circles, street
crime, taxis, buses, movie houses and death.)

Here we must distinguish the concept of the urban from the idea of the city. (City with an upper
case C.) The former is simply facts of space, architecture, population, density, transit and other
metrics. While in the latter, this data finds expression in the narratives of individual lives as well
as meaning in groups, which together define a society’s economic and political missions.
The urban is the ratio of sky to skyline, while the city is “women in their summer dresses” and
men in fedoras, which is to say metaphors and errors that are repeated over and over again
until they become the truth. (Until they become recognizable cinematic clichés.) The city, then,
is more mood than background, feeling than place. Its essence pervades a particular narrative,
like smoke adheres to wool, until it becomes part of the fabric of the story.

Saying this, I have to ask how two almost diametrically opposed representations of the
city can be found to tell the same story? On the one hand, we have Varda’s humane, humanscale Paris. On the other, Godard’s inhuman, machine-run Alphaville. Yet both prove
appropriate settings for love stories, or more specifically, two stories about women who love
for the first time.

2

If the difference between Varda’s Paris and Godard’s Alphaville is only a matter of appearances
and not substance, I am compelled to ask: Why did Godard go to the trouble of disguising Paris?
Why did Varda avoid better-known arrondissements?

This is not a question of light versus shadow, or the appeal of Beaux Arts architecture
versus the International Style, or cafés versus Residents’ Control. The question is: Could Cleo
have found Antoine in Alphaville? Could Lemmy Caution have rescued Natasha from
cosmopolitan Paris? I am inclined to answer yes to both questions, because, to my mind, the
adhesive that holds both narratives together is the notion that sight equals love.

In the course of their respective narratives, Cleo and Natasha will define themselves as both
women and individuals not simply by possessing the wherewithal and freedom to move through
a city but also by seeing themselves move through the city. For both women, “seeing is
believing.” Sight becomes consciousness, and consciousness, life.

What I think both directors have created—Varda’s Paris and Godard’s Alphaville—are
dreamscapes. Natasha dreams into existence an Alphaville—programmed, regulated.
Cleo’s Paris is random, fluid. Each woman, in effect, wanders through her respective dreams
until she wakes. (That each is awakened with a “kiss” does not diminish her agency—her
emerging independence—as it is she who has found her prince.)

I also believe that the notion of the city as dreamscape is particularly apt as both films are filled
with moments and episodes that can be described as uncanny. Which is to say there are places
in the film where the tension between the familiar, the unfamiliar and the seemingly familiar are
nearly overwhelming.

Varda’s adherence to realistic representation does not make her city less symbolic.
(The uncanny exists at noon as well as midnight.) The fact that her film is divided into chapters
hints at impatience with the episodic structure in which she works. Chapters are more
consistent with books than films and with fairytales than with real life. When watching Cleo, we
are also “reading” a story. This becomes apparent when Cleo leaves her house. Almost at
once she/we becomes aware of the world around her—aware of signs—both literal and
symbolic. Panicked, obsessed with her illness, she sees in passing a sign above a pharmacy that
reads “Bonne Santé.” A moment later she looks into a mirror on the window of a Chinese
restaurant, and ideograms mark the reflection of her “unchanging doll face.” But her face has
changed and for good/the good. She turns away and sees an absurd face, a man with frog legs
for a tongue—a street performer swallowing frogs. Cleo is beginning to see and is at first
repulsed by much of what she sees.

Throughout her walk, Cleo will see the kinds of ordinary things Freud wrote of in his
essay, “The Uncanny.” Suddenly, commonplace features of everyday life will hint at the
presence of death among the living. Cleo’s walk, which we will explore in greater detail in the
next section, is marked by coincidences and forebodings, feelings of fear and dread. Along the
way, a series of chance meetings and encounters will initiate her transformation from a
narcissistic child to into a self-aware woman. As we follow Cleo we see that Varda’s Paris is not
only a modern commercial center, the capital of a great country; it is also a magic kingdom
complete with enchanted forests, frog princes and even an entrance into the underworld.

Alphaville is a nightmare and one that Natasha won’t survive if she doesn’t wake. Things there
are counterintuitive, behavior unnatural. People reply before being addressed.
Their bodies and voices are out of sync. Even words disappear, so that the notion of a
“familiar” is not only strange, it could be erased. Freud speaks of repetition as an element of the
uncanny, and Alpha 60’s insistence on logic reveals a “compulsion to repeat,” which strips away
both a sense of time and context. The electronic beeping, transmitted not-quite-human voices
and other sound effects, as well as sources of light that threaten either to expose or to punish,
or to simply go out, all produce an experience of the uncanny. Sound that doesn’t elucidate and
light that doesn’t illuminate are things the dead must experience. In a sense, Godard’s city is
already a necropolis.

3

In thinking about the weight of the uncanny in Varda’s and Godard’s cities, I sense in the
filmmakers a certain pessimism, perhaps even a loss of faith, or even a loss of faith in their art to
achieve something important. (Perhaps they sense something is changing in France, but neither
film anticipates the events to come in 1968.)

In both cases the city, and its modernity, have failed them in some important way. The
failure is implicit and perhaps fatal. The destruction of Alphaville, like that of Berlin—as we saw
in Germany, Year Zero (Roberto Rossellini, 1948)—will not signal the end of war.
As for Varda, how persuasive and replicable is Cleo’s awakening?
In light of their own doubts, both directors, perhaps unconsciously, settled on “love,”
one of the most conventional cinematic themes, to anchor their films. Love between a man and
a woman. However, these are not conventional films because, in them, love is not an antidote
to death but a palliative that makes death bearable. Which helps explain the importance of
poetry in each film. The poetry of everyday experience as recited by Antoine and the
modernist poetry Lemmy recites to both frustrate Alpha 60 and to awaken/seduce Natasha.

2 Dont Look. See. Dont Stop. Seek

According to Proust, it is a matter of chance whether an individual forms an image of himself,
whether he can take hold of his experience.
Walter Benjamin in Illuminations, “On Some Motifs in Baudelaire”

Dorothee: Where are you going?
Cleo: For a walk.
Dorothee: That’s unlike you.

1

Baudelaire wrote, in describing the perfect Flâneur: To be away from home, yet to feel oneself everywhere at home; to see the world, to be the center of the world, yet to remain hidden from the world—such are the few of the slightest pleasures of those independent, passionate, impartial natures, which the tongue can but clumsily define. The spectator is a prince who everywhere rejoices in his incognito.

I believe the Flâneuse would describe her feelings somewhat differently. To begin with, the
princely or aristocratic detachment has little to do with her purposes. Nor does she go out
“incognito.” To the contrary, she has removed her disguises and has entered the world on her
own terms.

The world is not a distraction that alleviates her boredom, nor does it exist for her
amusement, nor is it an inspiration for her art. Her gaze seeks. It seeks recognition. As
Natasha recites—almost like a novice taking her vow—“Everything moves. We must advance
to live. Aim straight ahead toward those you love. I went toward you endlessly toward the
light.”

As we mentioned earlier, the Flâneuse is on a mission. This despite the fact she may not
recognize the object of her gaze until the moment she happens on it. As in Flâneurie, chance
plays a role but only a small one. To paraphrase Robert Sawyer, the Flâneuse’s gaze may be
haphazard, but it is not indiscriminate.

While the Flâneur may assume a cloak of invisibility, the Flâneuse moves about in the
light of day. However, I don’t mean to suggest that she puts herself on display, as the object of
the gaze of others; rather, she goes out to meet the world as an equal. This issue of equality
perhaps suggests why the Flâneuse could not appear or be taken seriously until the 1960s.
In Cleo, Varda offers the viewer a primer on the pleasure found in the gaze, as well as the
pleasure experienced in finding one’s self the object of the gaze. However, it is only the latter
that Varda condemns, and she does so in the stronger terms: cancer. In this light, Varda might
be seen as a cruel doctor administrating an iatrogenic—a treatment-induced illness—she has to
kill the child to save the woman.

Cleo’s transformation from a “spoiled-child” and doll-like object of sexual desire (“Everyone
spoils me. No one loves me.”) requires that she consciously shed—that she chooses to reject—
all the pleasing trappings of the “girl” before she herself spoils. Her former naïve selfconsciousness, “Everything suits me. Trying things on intoxicates me,” has lost it charm. (In
both senses of the word.)

To remove any doubt of what will follow, Varda has Cleo tear the wig from her head, dress in
black and assume the posture and dignity of a woman. Through these acts, Varda makes it clear
that Cleo is not throwing a temper tantrum as Angèle, Bob and Maurice assume. This is a
defining act of defiance—Snow White has awakened.

In a similar fashion, Natasha undergoes her own “extreme makeover”—from child/automaton,
into an adult woman and thus into a sexual being. I will acknowledge here that Natasha’s
transformation is less obvious and so more problematic than that of Cleo. Perhaps even more
troublesome is my suggestion that much of Natasha’s Flâneurie will take place off screen.
However, the evidence that it has occurred can be seen, in each subsequent scene, in the
growing complexity of emotions she displays and the extent and quality of her verbal exchanges
with Lemmy Caution: “Increasingly, I see the human form as a lovers’ dialogue.”

Over the course of the film, Natasha’s answers become less formulaic. She sheds her logic and
rationality just as Cleo discarded her coquettishness. Natasha begins to show emotions—when
Caution is taken away, tears well in her eyes. A colleague notices and asks if she is crying. She
replies, “No, because it is forbidden.” This is a point of departure.

During their last scene in Caution’s hotel room, we watch a montage of Natasha and
Caution as they give/enact/dance an alternating reading from Paul Eluard’s Capitale De La Douleur
(The Capital of Pain) 1926. It is a classic scene in which the lovers pledge themselves before they
are violently separated. The exchange reveals an intensity of emotion and comprehension that
Natasha was not capable of showing when we first met her. How did she get there?
Natasha, like Cleo, has moved through her world and, in passing through it, appears to see it for
the first time. It is not all beautiful, some of it is frightening and even grotesque, but all of it is
real and must be negotiated. The disorienting interiors that Natasha navigates—endless
hallways, countless staircases, identical rectilinear spaces and dark roads—are not so different
from the labyrinth-like streets and boulevards that Cleo must traverse. Internal or external,
both walks cover psychological ground and are quite different from the strolling of the Flâneur
who seeks nothing in particular. As Edmond Jaloux observed in “Le Dernier Flâneur”:

To leave without being forced in any way, and to follow your inspiration as if the mere fact of
turning right or turning left already constituted an essentially poetic act.”

Natasha and Cleo take a different route than that described by Jaloux because they must arrive
somewhere in particular and time is of the essence.

They are two strange sisters: Cleo wanders like a ghost or a lost soul. Natasha moves at first
like a zombie and later, as the populace of Alphaville breaks down, like one possessed.
However, both will find their footing and, with it, their sense of self. What is also certain is that
their steps grow more confident as they hone in on their objects: Antoine and Lemmy Caution.

2

At this point, I think it is important to spend a moment examining the objects of Cleo’s and
Natasha’s Flâneurie. In doing so, I also think it fair to ask the following questions: Do Flâneuses
set out to be rescued by men? Does rescue represent a loss of agency or independence? Do
happy endings, complete with declarations of love, reduce both films to the level of Hollywood
romances? Must Natasha cry “uncle”—Je vous aime—before Lemmy Caution will rescue her?

As I discussed earlier, I think that the moods of both films suggest pessimism on the part of their
directors. And I also suspect that neither wanted to make a film that left their audiences
unmoved. For example, I find it difficult to believe that Godard thought that two stacked stills,
seen during the title sequence of Alphaville—the first of a group of men pushing a tank into the
sea; the second showing a man’s hand releasing a dove—actually justified his desire to make a
Science Fiction movie. And I also don’t imagine Varda’s audience was ready to watch a heroine
entering a cancer ward on her own. Or accept death as the sentence for the crime of coquetry.
However, I can imagine Godard thinking that nothing suggests a dream of peace more
persuasively than a man and a woman in love driving into the sunset. Or Varda thinking, it’s love
that gives meaning to life.

These may seem rather simplistic answers more correct when discussing Romance novels10
than French New Wave films, but the fact remains that both films end with women and men
going off together. What else is one to make of Varda’s and Godard’s matches for their
women—two typical movie heroes, men of action. Antoine is a soldier. Lemmy Caution, a
private eye, a spy. There is, of course, a twist—similar to the dynamic Janice Radway found in
her study of Romance novels—they are men of action and words. Both men are not only poets,
they are also gentle, tender and nurturing. The women, in the end, surrender to the men’s
muscles and to their words. The word surrender is, I think, accurate. Both women are, at the
end of their Flâneurie, domesticated.

Conclusion

Alphaville proves the truth of Susan Sontag’s claim that “[in] the landscape of pain, only three
…responses of real interest are possible: violent action, the probe of ‘ideas,’ and the
transcendence of sudden, arbitrary, romantic love.”
“Words Like Love,” Kaja Silverman in “Speaking about Godard,” NYU Press, 1998

An intoxication comes over the man who walks long and aimlessly through the streets. With
each step the walk takes on greater momentum; ever weaker grows the temptations of shops,
of bistros, of smiling women, ever more irresistible the magnetism of the next street corner, of a
distant mass of foliage, of a street name. Then comes hunger.
Walter Benjamin, [The Flâneur] 11

Vous et moi.
Antoine to Cleo

Je vous aime.
Natasha Von Braun to Lemmy Caution

1

Baudrillard, writing about New York, says of Europe, “…the street only lives in sudden surges,
in historic moments of revolution and barricades.”12 I think the concept of Les Flâneuses
introduces another type of surge. A psychological catalyst or “personal surge,” as when Cleo
emerges from her house, no longer a child but a woman. As we saw earlier, this act of defiance
was also a declaration; its sincerity expressed by the violence with which she tears the wig from
her head. The Paris she steps into rises to meet her eyes and surges with life.

The surge that lifts up Natasha is set in motion by the appearance of Lemmy Caution to
Alphaville. The violence he precipitates shakes Natasha loose from the life she was programmed
to lead and replaces it with “sudden, arbitrary, romantic love.”

Up to the moment when they were caught up in the surge, both women were defined
and so, confined, by others: Cleo, a girl in the golden cage; Natasha, a tattooed and soulless
functionary.

Each is set free by the act of Flâneurie, by the willingness to “advance…and [to] aim
straight ahead toward those you love” (Paul Eluard, Capitale De La Douleur). Cleo refuses to be
objectified any longer and in the process becomes her own subject. This is when we learn her
name is actually Florence and that Cleo is merely a persona, her professional mask. At this
point, Varda allows her romance to literally flower as the name Florence is derived from the
Latin for a flowering, or a blossoming. Cleo is no longer the mistress of artifice, the queen of
seductresses; she is a Goddess of summer.

Natasha escapes a world predicated on surveillance—a world of being observed, characterized
and objectified. While Natasha’s world is more ominous, one could argue that Cleo’s world is
almost as punishing—it gives her cancer. (The benevolent dictatorship of consumer society
versus the totalitarian regime.) When I think of the similarities of Cleo’s and Natasha’s
conditions at the start of both films, I wonder if we can’t understand Flâneurie as a new strategy
used by French women of the 1960s to negotiate the advent and implications of modern
feminism.

The tension inherent in this negotiation, i.e., the safety of the home versus the perils of
the street, might find expression in illness, of both a real and a psychosomatic kind. Cleo’s
illness is centered in her belly, the symbol of her sex. Natasha’s is hysteria, another “typical”
female condition.

Flâneurie offered men of a certain sensibility of the 19th and early 20th century a means
to face the increasing standardization of the modern world. However, its female variation is
more practical. It offers Cleo and Natasha a means to navigate the still-contested open spaces
of the city.

I think this may have occurred to Varda. In a lovely moment, Cleo is in Dorothée’s
boyfriend’s car. Although Dorothée has only just learned to drive, they are moving easily
through traffic. Although Cleo has mentioned her condition, the mood is light.
At one point one of them mentions how functional and boring street names are, and wouldn’t it
be better if streets were named after celebrities and entertainers. Cleo could have a boulevard
named for her. It is a moment in passing, a moment of vehicular Flâneurie, but it is filled with
meaning—Cleo and Dorothée want to appropriate the city and remap it to suit their needs and
pleasure.

There is also a mention of street names in Alphaville. Lemmy Caution has an
appointment at 12 Enrico Fermi, off Heisenberg Avenue, by Mathematic Parks. It’s meant, I
suspect, as a joke. An example of technocrats gone wild, but what Godard is saying with these
street names is that Alphaville is not hospitable to Flâneurie.

2

In closing, I’d like to return for a moment to Baudrillard’s notion of the surge because I think it
helps explain the upheaval, both personal and cultural, that triggers Flâneurie in both Cleo and
Natasha. Implicit in the surge is both violence and the threat of death. As we’ve seen earlier,
the presence of death is a necessary part of the cityscape, and our awareness of it lends a
frequent experience of the uncanny to our everyday life.

Everyday violence, whether in the form of an automobile accident, new construction or
crime, is inescapable. This theme is carried forward in both Antoine’s impending journey to
Algeria and Lemmy Caution’s precarious work. Men, it seems, are not only the principle
perpetuators of violence, they are also its most likely victims.

The threat to men is therefore obvious while the same threats to women seem more
abstract—one could use the phrase “collateral damage” to describe it. Both Cleo and Natasha
were damaged by the city. Their subsequent actions can be understood as an attempt to limit
that damage to a minimum.

Love is an emergency exit. Natasha professes her love of Lemmy Caution and is
rescued. Cleo gives Antoine her hand, with all the implications of giving one’s hand, and
discovers that her cancer is treatable.

Cleo de 5 a 7, and Alphaville, une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution, are love stories everything
else, as they say, is commentary. What makes them interesting love stories, relevant stories, is
that they are not typical romances. The endings to these episodes are happy, but there is no
guarantee the next episode will end happily ever after. Neither film pretends that love will rid
the world of violence; simply that it will soften the blow when it comes. Nor will love help one
avoid conflict; it will merely help one survive it. Necessity made Cleo and Natasha Les
Flâneuses Inadvertentes. But each woman had to cut her own path and see herself on it, before
she could make good her escape.

Notes

  1. Cleo de 5 a 7 (Cleo Between 5 and 7), Dir. Agnes Varda, Screenplay by Agnes Varda, Cast:
    Corinne Marchand, Antoine Bouseiller, Dorothée Blank, Jose-Luis De Villalonga, others.
    Released in 1962.
  2. Alphaville, une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution, Dir. Jean-Luc Godard, Screenplay JeanLuc Godard, Cast: Eddie Constantine, Anna Karina, Akim Tamiroff, Howard Vernon,
    Jean-Louis Comolli, Jean-André Fieschi, others. Released in 1965.
  3. Foucault, Michael, “Panopticism,” in Rethinking Architecture, Ed. Neil Leach, Routledge,
    1997.
  4. See Benjamin, Walter, “On Some Motifs in Baudelaire” Illuminations. Ed. Hannah Arendt.
    Shocken Books, New York, 1968.
  5. Freud, Sigmund, “The Uncanny.” First published 1919, in Imago V (5-6), English
    Translation, Penguin Books, 2003.
  6. Sunrise, Dir. F.W. Murnau, 1927. Murnau’s American debut—his first project for
    Hollywood’s Fox Film Corporation but planned in Germany. It was the first feature film
    released with sound-on-film, with a synchronized Movietone musical score by Hugo
    Riesenfeld. It appeared at the very end of the silent era and was released only a few
    days before the opening of Warner Bros.’ “first talkie,” The Jazz Singer.
  7. Baudelaire, Charles, “L’Art romantique Le Peintre de la vie moderne,” pp 64–65, Paris,
    1863.
  8. Eluard, Paul, Capitale De La Douleur (The Capital of Pain), 1926.
  9. Jaloux, Edmond, “Le Dernier Flâneur,” Le Temps, May 22, 1936.
  10. See Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy and Popular Literature, Janice A. Radway, The
    University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London, 1991.
  11. Benjamin, Walter, The Arcade Project, trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin, The
    Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London,
    England, 1999.
  12. Baudrillard, Jean, “America,” in Rethinking Architecture, Ed. Neil Leach, Routledge, 1997.