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Lamentation for a Grand Romance

Lamentation for a Grand Romance (photo)

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For American cinephiles of a certain age (under 50 or so, babies during the ’60s if alive at all), the last year and a half has been a neo-Godardian lavishment — month after month, there came a new sterling DVDization, or a new rarity screening (like Light Industry‘s showing of “Far from Vietnam” in Manhattan), or a new biography or brace of incidental footage (The Believer‘s “JLG in USA”), or even, as in this past January, a full-fledged American release: 1966’s “Made in U.S.A.,” only shown at festivals in its day before getting stalled and closeted by the producer’s legal woes and messy rights trouble with the Donald Westlake novel it barely references. It’s one of the 15 essential rockets Godard launched that made the decade his and his alone, and if you don’t find it a privilege to be able to discover it in 2009, you don’t care about movies.

“Made in U.S.A.” fits perfectly into Godard’s evolutionary passage from metafilm messiah to Marxist didact, from the buoyant gamesmanship of “Alphaville,” “Pierrot le Fou” and “Masculin Féminin” to the narrative-fuckup radicalism of “2 or 3 Things I Know About Her” (also a new Criterion DVD), “La Chinoise” and “Week-End.” Riffing impishly on noir clichés, composing life as if it were a comic strip, fracturing his ersatz story into slivery mirror shards, lollygagging through dramatic confrontations, cutting in splats of audio and advertising and visual punctuation, tossing off movie-movie allusions, indulging in irrational jokes, lacerating Americanization and the crassness of modern culture — it’s all there, all stewed together into a feverish, mysterious brew that’s less a traditional masterpiece than an open-source exploration of the cinema-life interface. Godardians will recognize the reflexes and disjunctures, and will likely get most of the moviehead references (the names tossed off include Goodis, Widmark, Siegel, Mizoguchi and “Ruby Gentry”).

But what’s revelatory about the film begins and ends with the central figure of Anna Karina, and I’m not talking about her acting or even her celluloid image. The romance between Karina and Godard is one of the most impassioned on-screen cataracts of feeling that 20th century cinema produced, and “Made in U.S.A.” is its requiem. The couple were already divorced in 1966, and aside from a larky omnibus short — 1967’s “The Oldest Profession” — this would be their final film together. It shows: every inch of the movie is saturated with sorrow, bitterness and ambivalence.

07222009_madeinusa1.jpgPerhaps because Godard’s approach has always seemed to me to be less analytical than poetic, the relationship “Made in U.S.A.” has with its maker’s heart suggest the double-coded meanings in T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” a roaring, secretive wail of modern existentialist despair that’s also, not incidentally, just as much about Eliot’s failed and crumbling union with his unbalanced wife Vivienne. Godard’s film has the same seething layers in it: on the surface, it’s all voguing nonsense, noir fun and bristling politics (the story is actually a contemplation of the disappearance/assassination of radical Medhi Ben Barka, which is just one contextual matter the Criterion’s supplements explicate beautifully). But underneath, we’re watching the art form’s most spellbinding love story crash and burn. Every close-up of Karina (who is lit flatly and often shot too close, as if to reveal her flaws) aches with woe, and almost all of the dialogue has second meanings. “Loneliness isn’t the cause of death,” Karina’s impromptu girl-detective says, interrogating a doctor while searching for her lost lover. “How can you not see the link between loneliness and illness?” he replies. “Why tell me stories?” she answers in what could be Godard’s growing aesthetic philosophy boiled down to a kernel. “I just want the truth.”

The crowning moment where the real meaning of “Made in U.S.A.” blossoms is in the first half, when Karina hangs out in a brasserie with her shady noirish pursuers. As they all evade each others’ eyes, Marianne Faithfull, as herself, sits in a booth and lets loose with a plaintive a cappella version of the Stones’ “As Tears Go By.” It’s the saddest scene in Godard’s oeuvre, and as precious as a real memory. Given the context of this film, Godard’s descent (if that’s not an unfair word to use) into icy political screed and anonymity with the Dziga Vertov Group wasn’t merely an ideological transformation but an escape from heartbreak.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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