‘War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography,” as journalist Ambrose Bierce once put it, and it’s true that many denizens of the Empire have little curiosity as to what goes on outside its borders unless they have to bomb it. This attitude was best summed up by the Texas Republican former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, who sneered “I’ve been to Europe once. I don’t have to go again.”
Filmmaker and liberal gadfly Michael Moore uses his latest film, “Where To Invade Next,” to explore the novel idea of learning from other countries instead of attacking them. He spends his two hours as a one-man army “invading” Europe, Scandinavia and North Africa to claim their best ideas for America.
It’s a pretty weak framework on which to build a movie, especially compared to the single-issue focus of earlier Moore docs, such as “Bowling For Columbine” and “Fahrenheit 9/11”, but Moore runs with concept for two hours in an ode to Euro social-democracy.
|Rating||out of 5|
|Run Time||120 mins|
With feigned naivete, he travels to Italy and Portugal, his jaw dropping as the natives regale him with fantastic tales of eight weeks paid vacation and the decriminalization of drugs. Like Gulliver in Lilliput, his mind reels as he encounters Norwegian jails where the prisoners have the keys to their cells, Slovenian universities that are tuition-free, and tiny Iceland, where guys named Thor throw bankers in jail and women are elected president without having to accept millions from Wall Street.
As usual, Moore’s good for a laugh: He grosses out kids at a public school in Normandy — they are being served a four-course meal on chinaware — with pictures of American cafeteria food, all sweaty french fries and oozing cheesy glop. A cheery “welcome video” to a Norwegian prison, which has all the guards singing “We Are the World,” is contrasted to a brutal and degrading strip search in an American jail.
But the point is what, exactly? America is a more violent society than Norway, and the prisons merely reflect that. Italian vacations and two-hour lunches are great — but good luck getting a parcel delivered to Rome in under two months. Germany has a 36-hour work week and paid leave for unwinding at spas — but will such benefits hold up under the dual onslaught of transnational capital and 1 million-plus refugees?
Moore is better when discussing the birth of the Arab Spring in Tunisia, noting how this Muslim country has equal opportunity for women written into its constitution, something America lacks. Tunisian women, Moore notes, took it to the streets; an older Italian union worker, commenting on worker benefits, makes the same point: “It’s never just given to us.”
Moore, as always, cherry-picks his examples, but the countries he points to are in fact exemplary in education, low in recidivism, have reduced drug use and score higher in general happiness. It’s hard to argue with success.
But who exactly is he trying to convince? A good part of the U.S. electorate is all for making America’s social contract more like Europe’s, and they are “feeling the Bern” this election season. Little here will come as news to them. Moore seems to be pitching his ideas to some theoretical insulated, ignorant yet open-minded Joe Sixpack in a red state. One has to wonder if such a person exists, and if so, would he or she even go see a Michael Moore film?
Moore’s own blue-collar schmuck persona may once have bought him some lumpenproletariat cred, but once you’ve won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, you are no longer that schmuck. When the last grim-faced feminist you interview in your film says, without any hint of a smile, “I wouldn’t want to live in the States even if you paid me,” you may think you’re dropping some truth, but good luck winning over those Trump voters.
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