How does your home country look to those from across the globe? America as Seen by a Frenchman initially tackles such a thought. The late director François Reichenbach muses on this well enough through his documentary. His odyssey to the strange land of America must seem rather tame when viewed with contemporary eyes, but his work as a creative and an artist precede his work as a fact-finding explorer, as the littered mass of material throughout his 60s documentary showcases rather vividly. An odd twinkle in his eye and a wry, contemptible smile for those around him, Reichenbach suffers and struggles through American culture, and attempts to come to terms with the day to day lives of individuals he shares little, if anything in common with.
That fish out of water style provides Reichenbach with a diving board for his series of topics. Without much rhyme or reason, he travels America and, as the title would suggest, views it from the eyes of a Frenchman. His holiday to the land of the free cut short somewhat as soon as he steps off of the boat, met with a barrage of cultural changes and ailments that would strike any regular Frenchman as grim and perverse, a removal of all sense should these oddities of culture be applied to that of European tradition.
Fragments of bile are spat at the relatively obvious tropes of American society that dominated the mainstream, but with little mention of the counter-culture, America as Seen by a Frenchman provides a literal nature to its title. These are the holiday documents of a man setting out to find nothing in particular. He merely moves from scene to scene, picking up the occasional line of unpredictably perfect dialogue. Enjoyable, most definitely, but lacking in any real substance or consistency, a damned shame considering how great a point Reichenbach can make at times. His analysis of American culture at this time manages to tap into the root of broad American issues, but fails to capitalise on this surprising understanding.
Idyllic landscapes and American stereotypes are mocked rapidly and repeatedly in this forgotten oddity of documentary filmmaking. Reichenbach understands, to some degree, the glorification of American culture up to this point. He just doesn’t know much of what to do with it, aside from to rightfully mock it. Interesting pockets and points of view are splashed around throughout, but for no real point outside of a personal guidebook to the various points of interest in American culture. What few are found are ridiculed with snooty and disengaged thoughts from Reichenbach, but such a passive aggression also brings out some unique charm from a documentary maker trying to leave his mark. An oddly mixed bag, with strong writing and narration from the documentary maker, but his scope of America is limited and provocative for the sake of it. The wry charms and pockets of humour carry the craft well, but not well enough.