Made in U.S.A.

A fine Godard film sees the light

Anna Karina in Jean-Luc Godard's ''Made in U.S.A.'' Anna Karina in Jean-Luc Godard's ''Made in U.S.A.'' (RIALTO PICTURES)
By Ty Burr
Globe Staff / February 20, 2009
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Calling all Godardaholics: "Made in U.S.A." is playing at the MFA over the next week as part of the museum's essential "Godard in the 1960s" retrospective. Despite the title, the 1966 movie has been unavailable in the USA for four decades; after it debuted at the 1967 New York Film Festival, rights issues kept the film off limits. It remains the least-seen work from Jean-Luc Godard's most fertile period - a brass ring for acolytes and completists.

As a movie it's gorgeous, minor, and pivotal. The director extrapolated a detective plot from a Donald Westlake novel (without getting permission; thus the copyright problems) as a way to bid farewell to one style and start building a new one. The characters carry the names of pulp writers, directors, and movie stars - David Goodis, Don Siegel, Richard Widmark - and there are references to "Rue Preminger" and Ruby Gentry.

Yet Godard's aching movie love is valedictory here; he's indulging the private-eye genre only to kiss it off, and to kiss off wife and muse Anna Karina as well (they divorced the following year). She plays a combination detective figure and avenging angel: Paula Nelson, seeking to discover who killed her lover and running afoul of gunmen, crooked cops, and surly dwarves.

Conventional narrative is the last thing on Godard's mind. As with his 1965 masterpiece "Pierrot le Fou," "Made in U.S.A." takes a Cubist approach to genre, reverse-engineering the detective thriller until its pieces are strewn around the floor. But there's also the sense that the filmmaker has wearied of children's games, and that the real world and its political struggles are the only topics worth addressing. (Amazingly, the movie was shot concurrently with "Two or Three Things I Know About Her," a richer, more cohesive work; the two screen together at the MFA Feb. 28.)

With Vietnam and Algieria looming behind the pulp, "Made in U.S.A." is about a filmmaker daring himself to commit to radicalism. "I place at my relative heart an absolute standard called ethics," says Paula, obviously speaking for her creator. "I choose to become more faithful, to myself and to others." As if making a sideways pun, the movie brings on a young and dewy Marianne Faithfull to sing "As Tears Go By" a cappella in a diner.

There are other pleasures to "Made in U.S.A.," not least the breathtaking wide-screen Technicolor photography and a color scheme of high-key variations on red, white, and blue. Ultimately, the movie's about a brilliant young idealist falling out of love with the illusions that have sustained him - Hollywood movies, beautiful film stars - and moving on to things that matter.

Ty Burr can be reached at For more on movies, go to

MADE IN U.S.A. Written and directed by: Jean-Luc Godard

Starring: Anna Karina, Jean-Pierre Leaud, Laszlo Szabo, Marianne Faithfull

At: Museum of Fine Arts, today and various dates through Feb. 28

Running time: 81 minutes

Unrated (brief cubist violence)

In French, with English subtitles

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