Jean-Luc Godard's film career is divided into two distinct eras. The films made as a member of The French New Wave and his political movies that comprise the remainder of his career thus far. Made in U.S.A is one of the films that serves as a transition between these two eras. It has the erratic nature, jump cuts and poetic flow of Breathless but also maintains the disconnect, verbosity and Marxism of his later works. Godard's color palate splashes off the screen as if to recreate a 1940's Hollywood poster, or an equally similar soviet propaganda poster. The film's use of blood is rampant, yet so stylized that it seems to mock the act of violence in both film and real life as child's play. It is Godard at his best, making both beautiful film and fine-tuned political statements simultaneously.
Made in U.S.A. is incoherent, but that is to be expected from Godard. However, the basic story is of Paula Nelson's (Anna Karina) quest to find the whereabouts of her husband Mr.P..., who she discovers to be dead. However, in between this Paula murders a blackmailer, philosophizes over whiskey and stares despondently into the camera. To explain anymore would be to ruin the film, because Godard as a filmmaker relies on his image to speak, not the narrative as it is written on paper. In fact, Godard was infamous for creating dialogue on the fly and this film certainly reflects it with its heavy use of repetition, musical interludes and mimic gestures.
The politics are what make this movie, particularly as they relate to bureaucracy and its affects of crime and punishment. In the bar scene, viewers are reminded about the arbitrary nature of language and how by simply rearranging a sentence an item or action become illogical. Similarly, all of the characters act on their own self-interests. Nelson feigns interest in detectives, using her sexuality to deter her arrest, literally using her high hell as a sign of femininity to kill a man and eventually steal a gun. The breaking of glass with her high heel reflects the perfection of femininity becoming a force of dominance over masculinity, particularly the phallic gun. However, Nelson also uses her genius to escape the law when she agrees to help a young man write his never-ending novel in exchange for keeping quite about the murder. The cops are by no means productive and often act in contradictory manners throughout the film. The brilliance comes in Godard's use of a song, which continually mentions the loss of children and the tears that are a result. Godard is reminding viewers that the hierarchy of power in a bureaucratic nation may prove nicely for the masses, but it still leaves large groups ignored and impoverished. The brilliance of this film comes not only in its message but in its cool, hip and unconventional delivery, something that Godard has arguably lost in the recent years.
This is a must own for lovers of French cinema or political cinema for that nature. It is a guide to controversial filmmaking and has moments of sheer hilarity that even the most anti-French person can find funny. Criterion has done a great job with their transfer and I am hoping for a Blu-ray upgrade soon.