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Godard and Feminism Part IX: Made in USA (1966)

January 30, 2014

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Jean-Luc Godard intended Made in U.S.A. as an embodiment of a “Disney film starring Humphrey Bogart.” Made in U.S.A. attempts to act as a detective thriller yet contain fantastically surreal moments within. It even strives to be a film with a strong political message above all. Anna Karina serves once more a Godard’s central figure that spearheads this complex, jumble of a film. Fulfilling the role of “Humphrey Bogart” Karina is Paula Nelson, a woman in search of avenging the death of her estranged fiancé. Along the way she gets mixed up in a murder, then entangled with a few gangsters and discovers the deep political beliefs of her dead love.

While Made in U.S.A. is one of Godard’s more empowering, feminist films and its influence on films like Kill Bill is evident, it is perhaps my least favorite in his catalogue thus far. Made in U.S.A. deserves praise for placing a woman as not only the lead, but one directly in charge of her own cinematic life. Paula is eminently independent and portrayed as possessing an equal amount of power as the gangsters around her, if not even more wit. She’s self-sufficient and is nearly fearless in her endeavors refusing to even bat an eye when threaten with death. Paula proves she’s more than capable of protecting herself in situations and always able to narrowly escape danger with confidence and finesse. In one scene she asks a man what color shoes would look best with her dress, blue or white. Once he chooses a color she takes the shoe heel of that shoe to the side of his.

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Yet, it’s Godard’s narrative exploits that take away any clout the story or its heroine possesses. I became certain that I was not going to enjoy my experience watching Made in U.S.A. within the first ten minutes. Made in U.S.A. dissatisfied me in the same way Kurt Vonnegut’s Galapagos did when I initially tried to read it a few years ago. Like Goddard, Vonnegut is a beloved idol of mine; one that speaks to and teaches me in very distinct and unique ways as a writer, idealist, dreamer, critic, and spirit. Yet, I always say, “anything in excess is a problem” and I’ve often described Galapagos to fellow Vonnegut enthusiasts as “too Kurt Vonnegut-y.” This is the same way I’d describe Made in U.S.A.. Ultimately it’s problem is that it is just too “Jean-Luc Godard-y.”

At times I thought I had a copy of Made in U.S.A. with horrendous subtitles, but then I realized much of the dialogue in Made in U.S.A. just doesn’t make sense because well… it’s a Godard film and he likes to shock and surprise audiences by throwing us off guard. But one scene nearly made me stab myself in the neck in utter annoyance. In a bar Paula strikes up a conversation with the bar owner and a fellow patron. What starts as a conversation about age gets muddled with talk of addition and multiplication, then becomes a grating conversation about what makes a sentence sensible as the bar patron seeks to deconstruct sentences by putting random words together. The scene goes on entirely too long resulting in little to no importance as a statement or plot advancement.

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Multiple times throughout the film dialogue between characters is muted. Also lines get repeated constantly for no other reason than why not, and shots are repeated about two or three times before moving on to the next scene. These are auteuristic elements common in Godard films, but in Made in U.S.A. they are used to the point of annoyance. They mean nothing more outside of the the simple fact that he can do it. Usually in a Godard film these elements don’t bother me, however Made in U.S.A. doesn’t quite work this time around with an already conflated story and little meaning behind what’s taking place. All of the film’s characters are stock villains and cheap in their portrayals and the discussions of politics is jumbled and inane. Overall the story of the film, as observed by a character in the last scene, is unclear which makes for an irritating and bland watching experience.

Anna Karina (left), Claude Bouillon (center), and László Szabó (

Made in U.S.A. is Godard being Godard, but in my opinion too Godard-y; i.e. too much pointless happenings to actually make a point, it’s too fantastical which strips the film of any cinematic or story realism, and it’s too self-indulgent to be coherent. Anna Karina as always is the highlight of the film’s Godard features her in due to her strong, charming screen presence which gives her a glow of confidence and pride and is easy to watch. However, even her magnetizing presence can save this train wreck of a film.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. February 3, 2014 2:15 PM

    This film is so good.

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