Based on The Jugger by Donald E. Westlake, Made in U.S.A. is the story of a young woman who travels to Atlantic City to find her boyfriend as she finds herself in a world of trouble filled with intrigue and political turmoil. Written for the screen and directed by Jean-Luc Godard, the film is a stylish on the American crime films Godard love as it’s inspired by Howard Hawks’ The Big Sleep as well as Westlake’s novel. The film also marks the seventh and final feature-length collaboration between Godard and his then-wife muse Anna Karina as Paula Nelson. Also starring Jean-Pierre Leaud, Yves Afonso, Laszlo Szabo, and a special appearance from Marianne Faithfull. Made in U.S.A. is a stylish yet entrancing film from Jean-Luc Godard.
It’s 1969 as Paula Nelson travels to Atlantic City as she learns that her boyfriend Richard P. (Jean-Luc Godard) is dead. Trying to find out what happened and why, she meets with Edgar Typhus (Ernest Menzer) who gives her some information about Richard’s death as his nephew David Goodis (Yves Afonso) and his Asian girlfriend (Kyoko Kosaka) visit. Later going to a bar, Paula meets a gangster named Richard Widmark (Laszlo Szabo) and his assistant Donald Siegel (Jean-Pierre Leaud) about more information as she goes to a villa where Richard P. frequented at where she encounters Widmark about Richard’s disappearance.
With Paula now a suspect over the death of Typhus and David’s girlfriend with David believing that Paula did it, Widmark helps her out though a private investigator named Aldrich (Claude Bouillon) remains suspicious. Though she suspects Widmark, Paula believes that Richard was killed over his political beliefs as more complications occur. With the often silent Siegel revealing some unexpected information, Paula takes charge into what happened to Richard as she turns to Aldrich and David for help.
The film is about a Leftist journalist/P.I. who goes on the search for the story about her boyfriend’s death and its supposed political reasons. Yet, it’s really a movie about a woman caught up in a world where she is surrounded by ideals about advertising, pop culture, and politics. While the film is set in Atlantic City, it’s really set in a Parisian suburb where Atlantic City plays more like a metaphor of American culture and its impact of Europe. Throughout the film, Paula Nelson talks in metaphors about the idea that advertising is really a form of Fascism while she meets various characters including a man (Remo Forlani) who talks with a bartender (Marc Dudicourt) about the objects at a bar.
The unconventional yet minimalist script allows Godard to create a story where it’s not really about the mystery but the study of a woman in a world where her views start to blur her idea of reality and fiction. There’s moments when the fourth wall of the film breaks as Paula says that this film is “Walt Disney with blood”. There’s characters that are named after either filmmakers, actors, or political figures while there’s also a lot of literary references to what Paula describes the film as there’s a lot of loose scenes that goes on including moments where Marianne Faithfull’s voice is heard singing As Tears Go By in a capella as she makes a cameo appearing at the bar scene.
Godard’s direction in the film is definitely mesmerizing for the way he maintains a much more controlled sense of presentation for this film. Throughout the film, there’s moments where Godard just let things happen while barely moving the camera or just keeping things still as if the characters are talking to the camera. There are elements of unconventional ideas in the film such as Richard’s last named drowned out by sounds of airplanes flying or a car beeping. In scenes where Donald is talking, it’s covered by Paula’s voice-narration which pop ups now and then to emphasize what she is going through.
Since the film is called Made in U.S.A., there is a vibrancy to the way the film looks as Godard employs the three colors of the U.S. and French flags. Particularly to emphasize the former in terms of its cultural influence though it’s set in the latter as there is a conflict over the America’s influence on French pop culture. The characters are often shown with these any of those three colors behind them to emphasize the world they’re in. The presentation is very mesmerizing even though it’s a film that is difficult to comprehend due to its unconventional approach. The political context might seem dated though it does make sense about the way the world is in terms of how advertising might be considered a form of Fascism. Overall, it’s an abstract but intoxicating film from Jean-Luc Godard.
Cinematographer Raoul Coutard does a gorgeous job with the film‘s vibrant photography that is awash with gorgeous colors from the locations to the dresses that Paula wears. Coutard’s photography also heightens the look for many of its exterior settings while keeping it more straightforward in its interior setting as he is the major highlight of the film’s technical work. Editors Francoise Collin and Agnes Guillemot do a great job with the editing which is mostly straightforward with a few jump-cuts in order to go for a more controlled though energetic tone. The sound work by Rene Levert and Jacques Maumont is superb for the way sound is placed on some parts of the dialogue along with natural sound in the locations that are in. The film’s music is mostly dominated by classical pieces from Ludwig Van Beethoven and Robert Schuman along with Marianne Faithfull’s As Tears Go By.
The casting is amazing for the people that appears in the film including Marianne Faithfull as herself along with Sylvain Godet and Jean-Pierre Biesse as a two lowly gangsters respectively named Robert MacNamara and Richard Nixon, Marc Dudicourt as a bartender, Remo Forlani as a man in the bar, Kyoko Kosaka as David’s Asian girlfriend, and Jean-Luc Godard as the voice of Richard P. Other notable small roles include Claude Bouillon as Inspector Aldrich, Ernest Menzer as Typhus, Jean-Pierre Leaud as the helpful Donald Siegel, and Yves Afonso as the wannabe writer David Goodis. Laszlo Szabo is very good as Richard Widmark, a shady man who helps out Paula though he remains secretive in what he’s doing. Finally, there’s Anna Karina in a mesmerizing performance as the metaphorical yet take charge Paula Nelson. Karina displays a restrained yet magnetic performance as a woman that tries to make sense of everything while proving to be no push-over as it’s a magnificent performance for the actress.
Made in U.S.A. is an extraordinary film from Jean-Luc Godard that features a radiant performance from Anna Karina. The film is definitely considered one of his best films of his revered 1960-1967 period though it’s really a transitional film of sorts as it shows Godard leaning towards political themes that would be prevalent in his post-1967 films. Yet it is a film that plays into the idea of American culture overwhelming a world that isn’t American as well as a woman trying to make sense of things in a crime-setting drama. In the end, Made in U.S.A. is a rich yet dazzling film from Jean-Luc Godard.
Jean-Luc Godard Films: All the Boys Are Called Patrick - Charlotte et son Jules - Breathless - The Little Soldier - A Woman is a Woman - Vivre sa Vie - The Carabineers - Contempt - Band of Outsiders - A Married Woman - Alphaville - Pierrot Le Fou - Masculine Feminine - Two or Three Things I Know About Her - La Chinoise - Weekend - One Plus One (Sympathy for the Devil) - (Joy of Learning) - (British Sounds) - Tout va Bien - (Letter to Jane) - (One A.M.) - (Number Two) - (Here and Elsewhere) - (Every Man for Himself) - (Passion) - (First Name: Carmen) - Hail, Mary - (Soft and Hard) - (Detective) - (King Lear (1987 film)) - (Keep Your Right Up) - (Nouvelle Vague) - (Allemagne 90 neuf zero) - (JLG/JLG - Self-Portrait in December) - For Ever Mozart - (Historie(s) de Cinema) - (In Praise of Love) - (Notre musique) - (Film Socialisme) - (Adieu au Language) - (The Image Book)
© thevoid99 2011
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