DIR: Michael Moore • CAST: Michael Moore, Krista Kiuru, Tim Walker
You may or may not be surprised to know that Michael Moore almost kicked the bucket this year. Having barely survived a bout of pneumonia which did away with the fifty-date promotional tour planned for his latest documentary, Where to Invade Next, both film and filmmaker seem to be recovering well. With no output in over six years and no Moore to encourage people to go see the film, the thing looked set to flop. He refused several offers to buy the film, including one from Netflix, driven by previous theatrical success and the seemingly uncontrollable urge to agitate.
The film follows Moore’s journey around Europe, cherry picking legislations and cultures that might better suit American society, with healthcare, prison systems, war, drugs and education up for interrogation. He pitches the American flag in the home of a loved up Italian couple who enjoy extensive paid vacations, two-hour work breaks to enjoy lunch with the family, maternity leave and big bonuses; he pitches it in Finland where high IQs are the result of short school days, no homework and the exclusion of private education; Slovenia which offers free third level education for everyone, native or not; Germany, where your doctor can send you to a spa for three weeks if your stressed (its government funded), and where fifty percent of corporate boards are made up of workers, like that of Volkswagen, where employees urged the government to prosecute after the emissions scandal, and where shameful chapters in German history are taught in school and remembered with commemorative public signs that would have addressed Jews. He visits France, where balanced gourmet three-course lunches are served in school cafeterias, and sex education is taught in terms of respect and affection for one’s partner (juxtaposed with a news report of a Catholic American high-school experiencing an outbreak of chlamydia); Portugal, where upholding human dignity and the decriminalisation of drugs has drastically reduced recidivism. He pitches the flag in Norway, where rehabilitation has been the main stay of the prison system, and prison guards make orientation videos that can only be likened to Live Aid; Tunisia, where government funded women’s clinics ensures the wellbeing of all its citizens, and Iceland, where all the shitty bankers went to jail and where women hold key positions in power, women who have brought the country out of the red.
For all the ethical and truth concerns around the preferential framing of Moore’s work (the agency his presence and participation give to his own opinions, often misleading editing coupled with anecdotal evidence), and considering that there is a wealth of countries that America could learn something from, Where to Invade Next is an enjoyable display of socialist propaganda, imbued with all the passion and humour he often deploys to frustrate the daylights out of you.
The film is not an opportunity for the rest of the world to scoff at America, although at times it is hard not to. Moore’s usual ironic, reductive approach is not so much about unattainable possibilities as it is tangible actuality. The opening montage overlays grandiose presidential speeches with American reality, like that of the thousands of servicemen and women who have had their homes repossessed whilst fighting for their country. He wants people to question their circumstance. In politically uncertain times for the US, Moore is selling a better way of life, liberal fantasies, ideals satirically subverted every time he pitches the American flag.
As formidable as he is irritating, it is no coincidence that Moore’s subjectivity coincides with a hugely historic moment in US presidential history (he partly blames his illness on the support he gave to Bernie Sanders’ Democratic campaign). The documentary has no real solutions but is nevertheless stirring and at times inspiring. It ends with Moore recalling his experience of being there when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. Change is always possible and often gives little warning. This beacon of hope is his contribution change, however facetious it may seem to outsiders.
15A (See IFCO for details)
Where to Invade Next is released 28th June 2016