Set in the near future, Paula, a leftist writer, goes from Paris to the French town of Atlantic-Cité when she learns of the death of a former colleague and lover, Richard P. Is she there to...
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Set in the near future, Paula, a leftist writer, goes from Paris to the French town of Atlantic-Cité when she learns of the death of a former colleague and lover, Richard P. Is she there to investigate? On the surface, faces are beautiful, colors bright, clothes trendy. Beneath, little is clear: some talk to Paula as if she's Alice in Wonderland, corpses pile up, and ideological struggles insert themselves. A murder victim's nephew and a political party's hired hands hover around Paula. Is obscuring things her goal or is it life that's obscure? Written by
A remake of the Big Sleep as only the "Girl and a Gun" man can do it
It's probably a given to note one of Jean-Luc Godard's notorious Godard-isms, likely the one that everyone knows even if they haven't seen a Godard picture: All you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun. While this is a pointed reference to the simplicity possible and/or inherent in the gangster picture or noir, and about how inexpensiveness should be taken usually into consideration. But at the same time, I think a picture like Made in USA or even something like Band of Outsiders or Vivre sa vie emphasizes that Godard was really the one to go for this in the only way that he could: all Godard needed to make a movie was a girl (his girl, pre Masculin Feminin which was immediately after Made in USA, Anna Karina), a gun (or sometimes more than one), and Jean-Luc Godard. Because, really, a girl and a gun is fine, but in the 1960s, with this man at the helm, it was just a little bit more.
Called by the director himself as a "remake" of the Big Sleep, which perhaps makes the best sense of all, this was the hardest to find of the French New Wave wild-man-poet-anarchist's films not just with Anna Karina but in the 60s in general (pre-Criterion). Interesting, since this is, to my somewhat biased estimation (biased in that this was, to me, his absolute prime period before his very hit or miss period in the decades to follow), one of his most entertaining "B-movie" movies about movies. And not just about movies, but also about living with oneself, the politics of France, Walt Disney, and things pop culture flavored all around. This is another in a line of pictures Godard made that was very anti-capitalist while at the same time embracing to an extent (if only ironically) the images and names and attitudes of American pictures and pulp fiction and comic books and other things. There's such an array of references that at the theater I saw this film at, the Film Forum in NYC, they had to put up a glossary-key to fill people in.
And as much as it's a love letter to wild quips, eccentric characters, guys in trench-coats and hats, Nick Ray and Sam Fuller (especially them as providing Godard's "love of sound and image" as noted at the start), bright colors filmed in wonderful Technicolor, stretches of time filled on a tape recorder about French politics, and to the dark and warmth of American B-movies, it's also a fine goodbye to Anna Karina. Here, as pretty and tough and contemplative as ever, going through some classic Godard scenes like when she and the detective who may have killer her character's lover explain to the camera what they are saying in a scene instead of playing it out, or just lying on the ground in a moment of existential upheaval, Karina shows how good she could actually be. While not her very best- I'd save that for Pierrot le fou and Vivre sa vie- it's a very memorable performance, and one that, like everyone else in Godard's films, knows so well about the performance as she's performing, that the "fiction" itself becomes wrapped around in the very documentary-like act of filming the movie.
And that last part, I think, is the handle for this time period for Godard. What was essential to his craft, when it clicked just right, was that he could master together his love of quotations and pop-culture and movie references on top of a daring and sometimes wacky exploration of reality and fiction. Made in USA us based on a Donald Westlake crime book about a woman looking to find out who killer her man, but in Godard's hands the very act of this plot, joyously convoluted as the best possible homage/remake of Hawks' Big Sleep as could be outside of Coen brothers, is subjugated to scenes where actors talk to the camera about what they would normally just say to each other in a scene, or when they make point of, of course, that it's just a movie. It may be a "B-side" in the Godard 60s cannon as a NY Times review pointed out, but damn it all if it isn't one of the most enjoyable B-sides in all cinema.
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