Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Oct 02, 2015 4:57 pm 
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Michael Moore goes on a world tour, seeking better ways of doing things than America's

For his first new film in six years Michael Moore, some think, has mellowed, and brought up his ever-present humorous side to greater prominence than previously. And this time he's not attacking the US, not exactly anyway. He's taking a more positive tack, going to other countries -- Italy, France, Finland, Slovenia, Germany, Portugal, Tunisia, Norway and Iceland -- focusing on particular ways of doing things in each country that America might do well to emulate. The concept is simple. When you travel, haven't you found in other countries certain things that were clearly done better there than at home? What if these superior features or places could be "invaded" and "stolen" to be brought back for home use?

Actually Moore does attack the US, right off, by describing an alleged meeting with top US military leaders and hearing them declare they've failed miserably. Later he points out the enormous percentage of our tax dollar that goes to "defense." But then, we go on a quirky world tour and see what Moor comes up with. This approach clearly goes back to the passages in Sicko where Moore discovered other nations -- most notably France --where health care is unmistakably more accessible and kinder than America's. This time, he frequently points out that the great situations abroad are recently achieved, and often hard-won.

In Italy he finds such kindness granted to workers. He interviews a cheerful middle class couple, and the managers of several factories, including the Ducati motorcycle company's. The information they give shows Italians get much more time off, including seven weeks of paid vacation, lengthy paid maternity leave, and a couple hours every working day to go home and have a full sit-down lunch with their families. The company owners are fully in favor of these conditions and they lead to employee satisfaction and more productivity.

In France Moore visits several (public) schools, showing how magnificently kids eat. They are served at table -- no plastic -- and the chef keeps dozens of different cheeses on hand. The menus are decided upon every month at a meeting of the chef and town officials. When Moore brings a can of Coca Cola to the table, the children decline to try it. The luncheon is looked upon as a class in nutrition and manners, and is not rushed. For older kids, Moore finds a humane and honest sex education program that means far fewer teenage pregnancies than Stateside.

In Finland they have abolished homework and avoid standardized, multiple-choice tests, resulting recently in having the best educational system in the world. In Slovenia, there's no college tuition -- and, as in a number of other countries, therefore no school loan debts carried on into one's thirties or forties. In Germany, Moore focuses on how students are taught the truth about their nation's terrible Nazi past, and speculates what it might be like if we in America taught and openly memorialized our nation's foundation on genocide and slavery. Throughout the film Moore shows videos illustrating how recent cruel abuse of black people still is here.

In subsequent country stops Moore finds far kinder prisons (a maximum sentence of 20 years even for the mass murderer) in Norway with a far lower recidivism rate; sentences to far-away jails for delinquent bankers in Iceland, resulting in quick recovery of the economy; and an awareness that women, lacking the selfishness caused by testosterone, may be more reliable leaders; legalization of drugs in Portugal avoiding the ravages of America's "war on drugs"; and a Tunisian woman who points out that there, and elsewhere, American cultural products are eagerly consumed, but Americans seem to have very little knowledge of other cultures.

One of Moore's most arresting assertions is that, given how the heavy and selective criminalization of drugs in America has led to the huge black criminal population used as a factory work force (for such as Victoria's Secret), in effect America's former enslavement of black people has been recreated in the modern era.

There is no overriding theme here, just a lot of enlightening details and the thesis that America needs to be able to adopt better ways that obviously work elsewhere. As with similar coverage in Sicko, Moore paints a simplistically positive picture of each country, eschewing contradictions and complexities. This is his way. And it works. Of course he is cherry-picking, but why not? Amid the frequent laughs, there is much that is moving and hopeful. We leave with the conviction that things can, indeed, get better.

Where to Invade Next, 110 mins., debuted at Toronto, and it was screened for this review as poart of the New York Film Festival. Bought for distribution by a new label formed by two Weinstein defectors. US theatrical release: 23 Dec. 2015.

Watch NYFF press conference with Michael Moore here.

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