There is no questioning the power of Godard. His cinematic talent reaches much farther than my mind could even begin to escape, and upon watching some of his lesser known films these days - his sheer imagination was something that is decidedly missed in today's film experience. Watching "Pierrot Le Fou", the vivid color, the uncontrollable ability to combine any genre into one frame, and the dedication of his actors was demonstrated. A less-fan of his "Breathless" film and more into his experimental work, "Fou" was right up my alley - yet, watching "Made in USA", I was completely flabbergasted. This film was confusing, colorful, intelligent, philosophical, brutal, and a slice of what America was producing at the time, while all the while being completely Godard. Destined never to be a favorite among purists, "Made in USA" requires more than one viewing and an accompanying owner's manual to navigate, but the final destination is worth all the work. Using Anna Karina as our guide, this spy-thriller (if I could say that) takes off with a huge step and never looks back.
Do not watch this movie late at night or while doing anything that will cause you to glance away from the screen. Every moment in this film is necessary, every word that Godard has our actors speak - while at times confusing and thought provoking - is needed to tell this dis-narrative story. Godard is a master behind the camera for this film - giving us an early glimpse as to what was in store with "Pierrot Le Fou", his bold color and well read characters (each one is always holding a book - Bravo!), are just the crust. What made "Made in USA" stand out was the obvious connections to Walt Disney, the "Big Sleep", and nearly everything coming out of the 60s in America, but what makes Godard impressive, is that one needs to search to see it. He doesn't spoon feed you a narrative that makes your heart gush at the end, Godard creates challenging cinema that will not be enjoyed by all, but if developed - if watched over time - if studied, remains important even 43 years later.
"Made in USA" is another Criterion release that looks and sounds perfectly, but - even with my discussion on how great Godard's work is - isn't the greatest release from the master. Yep, I am a Godard fan, but I am picky. I didn't enjoy "Breathless", but "Pierrot Le Fou" I hold very highly - and this - well, "Made in USA" is intelligent, but perhaps a bit too pretentious. The idea behind this film is solid, but it is the execution that had me nervous. Godard is eloquent in introducing us to certain characters and elements, but gives them names of his favorites like McNamara and Nixon that just feels weighted by symbolism and inside jokes. The viewing took place over the course of three days, not due to the diminishing subject, but because a rewind was needed to ensure that parts didn't go missing or lost. Crafting one part puzzle, one part social commentary, one part comedy is difficult - and for the beginning film watcher - this probably isn't the best film to first experience Godard. Here is what I liked - I loved not knowing. What was exhilarating about this feature was the unknown. The confusing dialogue, the menacing tape voice, the constant barrage of planes flying overhead (if that IS what that noise was), and the possible hope of knowing Richard's last name - keeps one wanting to finish, but getting there is a battle. The dialogue is either a love or hate moment. As there is no linear story, from the spoken perspective, and it is easy to get lost in Godard's cluttered words. For myself, it was at times refreshing - and at other times a disaster. Without a linear narrative, it was difficult to understand how one character fit within the scheme of events. What was happening between Paula and Mr. Typhus? Just thinking about it gives me a headache.
The scenes that stood out in this film were the bartender moments (where you could call him Paul or Bartender, but not "sir"), the pinball machine in the garage, and the billboard store room characters. These made me chuckle and see the humor that Godard was demonstrating, but the others just felt murky and disjointed. Again, I would like to state that every scene was necessary, but were they great? The imagery was spectacular - giving us the color palette that he would later use in "Pierrot Le Fou" - and the cinematography followed suit. For me, it was just the language the bogged me down. I wanted to know these characters further, I wanted to further know the story of the skulled man, and who was double crossing who. "Made in USA" is an important film, I am glad to see it within the Criterion catalogue, but it is an advanced film. The average film watcher will not like this movie, even I felt lost sometimes - but I am so very happy that I watched it.
In another review, this film was quoted as a "B-side" to the Godard cannon, and I couldn't agree more. Could I watch this movie again? Absolutely, but not right away. I look forward to re-exploring this piece of cinema, understanding what I missed, and seeing the inside moments that may have slipped by me the first time. "Made in America" isn't perfect, and I don't know anyone that can take a ten minutes of a tape playing discussing politics, but this self-proclaimed "B-side" finally has a release it deserves.
Grade: *** 1/2 out of *****