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With: Anna Karina, Jean-Pierre Léaud, László Szabó, Marianne Faithfull, Yves Afonso
Written by: Jean-Luc Godard, based on a novel by "Richard Stark" (Donald E. Westlake)
Directed by: Jean-Luc Godard
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Language: French, with English subtitles
Running Time: 90
Date: 12/03/1966

Made in U.S.A. (1966)

4 Stars (out of 4)

A Girl and a Gun

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This is what Godard was talking about when he said that all it takes to make a film is a girl and a gun. It's two years in the future, and Anna Karina plays a reporter (?) named Paula who is investigating the death of someone called Richard, with whom she was once in love. She doesn't act like a reporter and never appears to be taking notes. In fact, she seems more like an underworld player, savvy and wary and distrustful of others. A man comes into her hotel room and he's murdered, and Paula may or may not be a suspect. She alternately trades dialogue with characters called Richard Widmark (Laszlo Szabo), Donald Siegel (Jean-Pierre Leaud) and David Goodis (Yves Afonso) -- all named after some of Godard's favorite writers and directors. (We also meet two guys called Richard Nixon and Robert McNamara.) Godard uses the skeleton of a mystery -- originally written as "The Jugger" by Donald E. Westlake (under his "Richard Stark" pseudonym) -- and goes through the motions of revealing new bits of information, but little of it makes sense or adds up to much. Occasionally we hear recordings of an anti-Communist (or is it anti-fascist?) rant. Marianne Faithfull appears as herself and sings "As Tears Go By." I suppose it's easy enough to dismiss Made in U.S.A. as a failed crime film, but it's true Godard, praising the things he likes and railing against the never-changing stupidity and softness of the mainstream, the government and all other forms of establishment. He deliberately breaks and re-invents the rules of cinema, and comes up with something akin to a filmed critical essay. It's intellectual, as opposed to emotional, cinema, despite the fact that he dedicates the film to two of cinema's most emotional directors, Samuel Fuller and Nicholas Ray. Nothing is held back, but everything is calculated. Godard fires dozens of ideas at the audience, and switches weapons in mid-stream, but if you only pick up a few ideas along the way, then Made in U.S.A. has succeeded. The full-color, widescreen film has been long unavailable in this country, but the great Rialto Pictures has given it a proper, 2009 re-release.

DVD Details: The Criterion Collection has given this newly essential Godard classic a proper DVD release. It comes with a kind of video essay on the political nature of Godard's work, plus interviews with Anna Karina and László Szabó, and trailers. My favorite extra, however, explores most of the film's references, cultural and political, highbrow and lowbrow. There are also trailers and a terrific liner notes essay by film critic J. Hoberman.

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