Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Made in USA - Jean-Luc Godard, 1966
Anna Karina plays Paula Nelson, a journalist/quasi detective trying to find out how her lover Richard P. had died. Her one ally in the film is a distracted but sweetly loyal writer named after the American noir writer David Goodis (author and screenwriter of Dark Passage, a Bogie and Bacall movie, and also the writer of the book upon which Shoot The Piano Player was based). She is thwarted by, and thwarts, some gangsters/political operatives throughout, all whilst wearing the brightest mod dresses you could possibly imagine with the blue eyeshadow and nude lips of the day as well. Oh, and a sweet 20-year-old Marianne Faithfull decides to drop into the bar and sing 'As Tears Go By' in a touching vibrato, only serving now as an amazing reminder as to how much drug addiction can change a person.
There is a tremendous amount of wordplay, characters describing conversations with other characters instead of just having the conversation, characters speaking different monologues at the same time into the camera, and all sorts of creativity with the dialogue in the film, much like A Woman is a Woman. However, much like his previous film Masculin Feminin, politics are what is threaded through almost every conversation and in particular communism, socialism, etc. There are many references to French politics but also two gangsters named Richard Nixon and Robert MacNamara, which was great. Godard's voice loudly spouts radical political rhetoric from a tape recorder in between scenes in a jarring way, ostensibly as the voice of the dead lover Richard. I felt like this film took the playful obsession with America and American film in A Woman is a Woman, and the leftist politics of Masculin Feminin and in the end was disappointed, but not disgusted, with both. America, musicals, love, and radical politics all seem to add up to nothing as far as being the individual answers to the questions Godard always had posed, and I think the ambiguous end seems to say that Godard would never presume to try and present the subjects, the obsessions, in his films as answers to anything. This just further proves in my mind that Godard is one of the best at asking questions in his films, one of the ultimate provocateurs of cinema.
The one constant, other than the political rhetoric and loud colors, are the many ways scenes and words in the film can be interpreted through the veil of Godard and Karina's impending divorce. The words he writes for her to say about her lost love Richard are very telling indeed. In the end, Paula takes the recorder and tapes her own voice, speaking about her life and the terrible things she has done, but also about her body, 'the body that Richard kissed'.
I won't spoil the end, but at the last second Godard remembers he has a plot and tries to wrap up some of the loose ends while Paula meets with one of the gangsters. Things turn suddenly maudlin whilst in a manicured park area next to a building with glass walls.
Paula: If I speak of time, it's not yet come to pass.
If I speak of place, it's vanished into space.
If I speak of time, it's gone without a trace.
If I speak of a man, he's soon to breathe his last.
For all of the politics and the splashy primary colors and the Americana worship and the endless layers of references, Godard is nothing if not a poet, every bit as much or more than his Nouvelle Vague contemporaries. Don't forget that.
Other than a brief coda at the end as Paula leaves town, the plot action winds up rather sadly. All the chaos and all the color comes to a stop as in the low afternoon sunlight two characters slowly and tragically say lines that rhyme with each other so very beautifully in French:
(male character): Oh Paula, tu m'as derobé ma jeunesse.
Paula: Oh _____(pause as tears slide down Karina's face)...tristesse.
Made in USA was the last film Jean-Luc Godard and Anna Karina made together.