Film Reviews

Made in U.S.A Jean-Luc Godard

Rating - 5/10

Filmed simultaneously with 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her, Made in U.S.A is Jean-Luc Godard's scattershot interpretation of Donald Westlake's 1965 crime fiction novel The Jugger and a French New Wave homage to American cinema.  However, it more accurately facilitates Godard's fervent fixation on his ex-wife Anna Karina, cast as the film's protagonist Paula Nelson, with other male characters vicariously chronicling his own "adieu" to her as lover and actress in his classic film repertoire.  It's unfortunate, then, that Godard's unique and unusual filmmaking methods turn Made in U.S.A into an convoluted and fractured mess of a film with only individual scenes that retain resonance or articulately project the director's profound idealism.

At 85 minutes in length, Made in U.S.A is actually quite similar to 2 or 3 Things in its construction, pacing and intense focus on historical figures and events (most prominently Moroccan anti-colonialist Ben Barka and the subsequent "affair").  Additionally, as Godard's own hushed omnipotent narration guides the former film, by contrast, Godard here assumes the role of Paula's dead husband Richard Politzer who can only be heard on a blaring tape recorder reciting this nonsensical socialist rhetoric, each with its own specific paragraph notation.  Even if these monologues in the latter half of the film are meant to spark the viewer into the reality of the political and social injustices to favor Maoism, Godard's choice ideology, the soliloquies are apathetically met on deaf ears, because they are delivered at such a booming volume without any urgent sense of emotion.  These structural demonstrations showcase Jean-Luc Godard as a definitive auteur but as one that is too eager to put on an ostentatious show, which is the epitome of Made in U.S.A as a piece of filmmaking.  Godard forgets that audiences do not have a delegated system for decoding his methods, and therefore a significant portion of his allusions, particularly textual snapshots and embedded cultural images, are lost in translation.  It's obvious that these types of essay films, along with 2 or 3 Things, are intended to be as apropos as possible to push the boundaries and categorizations of then-modern cinema.  Consequently, Godard potentially risks abandoning audiences in his warped maze of literary and cinematic references.  Nonetheless, by sheer number and obscurity, they provoke at least a small amount of inquiry.

In the "On the Cusp" featurette found on the Criterion DVD, Godard biographers Richard Brody and Colin MacCabe most interestingly discuss Godard's radical attempts to create an alternate model of filmmaking, which is what Made in U.S.A is intended to represent.  However, the inherent flaw within Godard's endeavors lies tragically within the process of his ambition.  Because Godard is going through the motions of deconstructing and reconstructing images and elements of the cinema (paired with the distractingly amorous close-ups of Karina), these efforts are absolutely reflected within the loose-knit, tedious and generally unsuccessful work, which stylistically borrows from the comedic or animated genres in an attempt to balance the adynamic lessons in semiotics.  Criterion's own characterization appropriately defines the film as "a Looney Tunes rendition of The Big Sleep gone New Wave."  This is true, except it is regrettably less exciting than the summation of that descriptor.

Although Howard Hawks or Philip Marlowe from The Big Sleep aren't directly referenced, the opening sequence pays tribute to similar noir and Western essentials like Nicholas Ray and Sam Fuller in a somewhat obscure dedication ("to Nick and Samuel").  Characters are progressively introduced to acknowledge literary or cinematic figures and provide an appropriate frame of reference for the title "Made in U.S.A."  Even though it is filmed with a blatant French backdrop, Godard attempts to manipulate Made in U.S.A with certain traditional Hollywood dramatics in Paula's secondary search for her dead husband, with additional, if entirely mysterious and indirect implications to The Jugger.  It almost seems overwhelmingly superfluous to put characters in direct reference to Richard Nixon, Robert McNamara, David Goodis, Don Siegel, and Robert Aldrich among others, but Godard demonstrates no reluctance to American name-dropping.

In application of those names with little overt explanation and the absurdist-like direction splashed with the occasional slapdash behavior of the main characters, Paula and Detective Richard Widmark, Godard advertently creates a clash of high and low cultures, either of which might be difficult to distinguish based on attention to detail.  Brody and MacCabe accurately discuss the nature of this high and low culture "collision course," which acts as a kind of preface to one of Godard's following films, Week End (1967), an even more blunt and literal collision course intended to represent the "end of cinema."  Occupying the figurative and literal place between Godard's more engrossing works, Made in U.S.A is an interesting cinematic collage but ultimately a failed expedition into the avant-garde realm for Godard-completists only.