Title: Where To Invade Next
Director: Michael Moore
Major Players: Michael Moore and the people of nine countries
Out Of Five: 3
My one lingering image from a Michael Moore documentary comes from Bowling For Columbine. It’s when he interviews the then Chairman of the NRA, Charlton Heston, in the actor’s home. Moore must have thought it was his lucky day because, as the camera panned round the room, it settled, just briefly, on a framed poster from one of Heston’s films. That film was Touch Of Evil. You could almost hear Moore rubbing his hands with glee.
There’s nothing so opportunist in his latest offering, Where To Invade Next. Nor anything quite as pointed. The past few years in American politics can’t have been easy for him, with the Democrats in power and his favourite target, George W, well and truly gone. But then I’m conscious that I’m viewing this as a Brit: I wonder how an American would react to it, especially in the year of the American presidential election. And you can’t help but wonder how long it’s going to be before Moore makes a film about the orange faced one, regardless of the result in November.
This is something of a Borat in reverse, with Moore travelling to various countries to “invade” them, ie steal their best ideas and take them back to the States so they can use them and claim all the credit. They’re all of a social nature, from the seemingly extraordinarily generous paid holidays in Italy – eight weeks – to educational standards in Finland, from worker power in Germany to the liberal Norwegian prison system where there’s no extraordinary punishments and an absolute maximum sentence of 21 years. And Iceland, where they imprisoned the bankers who ruined the country’s financial system.
Inevitably, Moore is being selective in the pictures he paints of these countries. They all look just a wee bit too utopian. Everybody looks wonderfully happy, healthy and comfortable. There’s no signs of poverty which, of course, can’t be true. He even recognises that himself in the Norway section, which opens with a showcase prison in the countryside. He asks to see a high security unit and, from the outside, this looks more like a foreboding factory. But, inside, there’s art on the walls and each inmate has his own private shower. The answer to his question about being raped in the shower is pretty evident.
Much of this is done with Moore’s tongue firmly in his cheek. You know there’s going to be a pay-off at some stage but, before you get there, there’s a more serious side to the film. Sequences on slavery and how the States never seems to have come to terms with it, unlike the Germans who appear never to let themselves forget The Holocaust. And how today’s American prisons are a source of free labour for many big brands. 21st century slaves, he calls them.
There’s a large section in the second half of the film devoted to women’s rights. In Tunisia, where they have government funded abortion and free women’s health clinics, in Iceland where company boards can’t have more than 60% men – or 60% women, come to that. There’s a hint of that early on in the Italian section, where he points out that there’s just two countries that don’t have paid maternity leave: Papua New Guinea and the USA.
The pay-off is that all the ideas he wants to import from these countries started in the States one way or another. So the message, just in case we haven’t picked it up along the way, is that America has lost its way: it’s all about “me”, not “us” and that insular attitude has made it a less caring and much poorer society, financially and morally.
In the absence of a target on the scale of Dubya, Moore is preaching to the converted. And he knows it, with his savvy twinkle and moments where he rather hams up his surprise. It’s a touch unfair on the people he’s talking to, who aren’t necessarily always in on the joke, and it grates ever so slightly. Despite this being an engaging watch, with plenty of humour – when he discovers that the Slovenian alphabet doesn’t have a letter W, he asks whether it was dropped before or after Bush became President – it feels very much like he’s lost his edge.
But, like he says as he walks reflectively alongside the remains of the Berlin Wall, anything can happen ……
Where To Invade Next is released in cinemas on Friday, 10 June and was reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 9 June.