Made in U.S.A (Jean-Luc Godard, 1966)
All you need to make a film is a girl and a gun. – Jean-Luc Godard
With his Made in U.S.A, Godard has literally taken this concept and put it in his film. Anna Karina plays a woman who needs to find the murderer of her fiancé. Ironically Made in U.S.A has never been released in theatres in the US until 2009, or so, because it was adapted from Donald E.Westlake(aka Richard Stark)’s novel that Godard didn’t owned the rights. So the author of the novel has always opposed himself for its release in the US. With this felony apart, this minimalist, film noir inspired, with a B movie feel is somewhat uneasy but really interesting.
The minimalist aspect of Made in U.S.A is palpable in every scene and it even starts with the opening credits passing so quickly that if the viewers blinks he can miss the names of JLG (Jean-Luc Godard),LS (Laszlo Szabo), AK (Anna Karina), JPL (Jean-Pierre Léaud) and moreover the names are written with only the initials of the actors.
We also feel this aspect in the few small sets used to shot the film: a small apartment, a garage, a small garden, a gym, an office. Everything is reduced and the spaces are confined to the frames and most of the scenes are shot with only one angle giving an unidimensional feel to the film. Godard rarely use reverse/reaction shot and in Made in U.S.A he almost never did them. There are some interesting movements of camera, a travelling in the gym and a 360 degree turnaround in the garage. Otherwise, the camera is almost steady all the time with most of the time restrictive shots. The form of the film is minimalist and it’s almost a trademark for Godard to shot with the minimal equipment and to lower the costs of the films, it permits a lot of improvisation and a more flexible panel for his discours.
AK portrays a character that in the 1950’s would have been played by Humphrey Bogart or some film noir classic manly face. But in Godard, everything is different and this innovation to bring a woman character as something very interesting to the story. The detective story takes us in a whole new place and for the first act of the film the viewer is lost into the maze of it.
The content of Made in U.S.A is closer to the first films of Godard where the fresh visions of the French New Wave bringing a new Cinema and a new breath was the main concern of these cineastes. But around 1966, with Masculin-feminin and 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle Jean-Luc Godard has derived into sociological studies of his generation. Shortly after, socialist concerns will be the main propos of his films, like in Tout va bien where we follow a strike of workers. For Made in U.S.A, it’s the fascist controlling aspects of our lives, and moral values that Godard targets. Unlike his more recent films, the narratives are still present and there is an actual story around the messages and the missives. But still, he cites many filmmakers that opened him the way into Cinema, naming his characters with their names: Donald Siegel, Robert Widmak, Inspector Aldrich, and Doris Mizoguchi.
Made in U.S.A marks the transition of Godard’s path into his more engaged films and his aversion towards the US government and its actions. Aside from being an uneasy film, Made in U.S.A is one of the important and interesting films of Jean-Luc Godard’s most prosperous period: the 1960’s. As They Shoot Pictures Don’t They stated this is a recommended film!