3 Stars out of 4
Jean-Luc Godard has smarts, yes, but also an impish sarcasm to him. To say Godard is an unconventional filmmaker is to say Albert Einstein was only a scientist. It's the case but there is so much more to them. Made In U.S.A has a fine juxtaposition to it. We are dealing with a taunting lampoon on American films, quite yes, but Godard strips everything of quality and quantity. The characters are ridiculous, the sound plays with a cheeky irrelevance, yet the cinematography is as bright as today's colour films. Everything looks mighty delicious but the themes are an appetite for destruction -- they disband from any sort of realism and run about on their own. Made In U.S.A, as good as it can be at times, needs to almost have a leash on it. Godard's experiments resemble extreme unconventional folly, but his approach to sensationalized American cinema is, though almost exquisite, undoubtedly dated.
There's always some kind of subversiveness to Godard's films. Someone has to be targeted. You could argue authority or just conventions themselves, as that is the authority of cinema. What is intriguing about Made In U.S.A. is that Godard takes on two perspectives: his own filmmaking ideology and an approach to Western cinema. It's a funny combination, observing a rather cynical French director critique that overly conventional style. Godard has of little faith in his characters as he does of his genre. American filmmaking has become so obscure we do not know if its the characters who are flawed or the style. It all looks so pretty, but why do we feel entrenched with this macabre feeling? Like everyone and everything is all a void.
You can get from the title itself that Made In U.S.A. is a bitter mockery. The rather brand-name title suggests an outlook on a type of manufactured films of that year 1966. All of cinema falls back into this echoed reincarnation of the Western clichť. How dull Godard envisions his plot, his characters, and his world -- but not his style. It jumps with a tonic zest, saturates the screen like a sprouting flower. Little did we know, this little colourful film was, and always was, Godard.
Paula (Anna Karina, Godard's wife for six years) is terrifically reduced. She is capricious, sentimental, flawed, depressed, -- you know what -- it does not matter. Observe Paula as nothing, Godard would prefer it that way. For Made In U.S.A.'s context, Paula is a quasi-femme fetale. Dangerous, delightful, and down and out. So many bodies drop on her account, but all Paula can focus on is singing frivolously to 'As Tears Go By' by The Rolling Stones. She's sad. About what? Her problems, life's problems, or cinema's problems? Godard, as an extravert auteur, is a genius.
Godard is unflinching with his pessimism. Cinema has no rules, so create your own. Godard goes nuts. In such 'intense' scenes, he interrupts the tension with a sound of speeding jets. For Godard, it does not have to make sense, because cinema does not make sense -- there is no material in cinema, so don't bother being 'real' with it. I admire Made In U.S.A. for its satire, for its attempt at plot, but not its longevity. Godard was firm on never making his films longer than 100 minutes, as he would probably considering anything longer a waste of our precious time. But here, Godard's game can only last so long, perhaps of short-film stamina. You will definitely grow tired of Made In U.S.A. quickly -- we get the joke, we get American films are limited, but Godard's plot, as always, never suffices in appeal. After 50 minutes or so, the rest will be a chore. Fortunately, the cinematography is not.
The lively looks capture a closed-in space. The characters shown on arbitrary angles on-screen, closed-in by this prefigured distortion. Nothing makes sense in these films, but the colour is a satirical sugar coding of Godard's absurdism. That makes Made In U.S.A. worth 82 minutes of your time.
Even that 400 Blows kid makes an appearance. His acting is top notch, his precociousness at a high. The actor is Jean-Pierre Lťaud and he is a finicky addition to Made In U.S.A. A simple challenge to Paula. She has to deal with him. For American cinema, it's for a matter of plot. For Godard, there is no matter, just observe the characters and exude your pity. They are just as futile as conventions.
Refrain from asking "what is the point?" because you won't find any. And if you are desperate for one, you will probably pick at the plot for some meaning, some rationalism. But Made In U.S.A. carries little point to its ideas. You will watch it, laugh at it, shake your head at it, and then possibly lose touch of it. Because Godard was an auteur of his time. There was a problem with his contemporary society and he wanted to reveal it. I loved this quote by Godard. He said: "I pity French Cinema because it has no money. I pity American Cinema because it has no ideas." If anything, Godard is perfectly frank. Is he right? Who knows. What is important are his ideas. This is not 82 minutes of nothing necessarily, this is 82 minutes about nothing. Where has all the substance gone? For Godard, as hard as it may have been for us to follow at times, was an answer worth solving.
I SAY--See It.