To enjoy a Michael Moore film, you must first enjoy Michael Moore. The filmmaker places himself at the centre of his on-screen universe, with those he meets or passes comment on merely small planets orbiting his sun. Moore is often agitated, he can be cantankerous and provocative, and he certainly holds no prisoners when it comes to his opinions on the state of the U.S.A. Yet in new film Where To Invade Next, we see a softer side to the director. Transported to Europe, he seems more mischievous than a martyr, even amused at points. The film’s website even describes the documentary as a “hilarious comedy” – so what’s changed?
The film opens in typical Moore style: a booming action movie score and a critique over U.S. military footage reminding the audience that the director’s M.O. hasn’t changed – he’s still deeply unhappy with the American government. The premise then changes fairly swiftly. Rather than confront Americans about their failings, this time, Moore decides to travel to Europe and point out all the things that other countries do better than his homeland.
We begin in Italy, where Moore shines a rose-tinted light on the country’s dedication to la dolce vita. In Italy, most employers offer eight weeks paid holiday time as standard practice. Whilst this is, enviably, double the amount we’re given in the UK, it is several times over what is offered in the US, where employers aren’t tied to offering any paid leave at all. Those in ‘good’ jobs will receive two weeks a year. The filmmaker meets a cast of warm Italian employers and contented employees, who enthuse about the benefits of taking multiple vacations. Moore, usually the political provocateur, doesn’t probe into the country’s government scandals or question the quiet banking crisis that has plagued the nation. Instead, he thanks his interviewees and playfully claims to have ‘conquered’ them, by promising to take their approach with him back to the U.S.
In France, we see perhaps the softest iteration of Moore yet, as he visits a rural primary school to experience school dinners. As anticipated, the nutritious, gourmet meals–complete with a cheese course–are far superior to those of middle America, who Moore shames by showcasing images of a tray of slop, provided by one of his young relatives. Moore sits at a table of young children like a mischievous imp, goading them to try Coca-Cola for the first time. As one of the students plucks up the courage for a sip, he says: “Now, tell me how you feel in half an hour.”
Perhaps one of the most striking cultural differences Moore highlights is various European country's attitudes to crime. We're taken to a Norwegian prison where the inmates keep the only keys to their rooms, and to Portugal where drug use has been completely decriminalised. A poignant moment sees Moore speak to the father of one of the victims of terrorist Anders Breivik, who says he would not kill the mass murderer if he had the chance, demonstrating the nation's devotion to pacifism in the face of extreme evil. These sombre scenes feel more powerful when intersected with the overall lighter, more satirical tone of the film, a new tactic for Moore that seems to be working.
Though Moore makes several stops on his journey, the United Kingdom is noticeably missing. The filmmaker doesn't acknowledge the omission during the documentary itself, but in a recent Guardian interview he admits: “It was a conscious decision to ignore the U.K. because of the way your country has drifted in the last decade or so… It’s sad how like us you are becoming.” So is a doc on the failings of the U.K. next in line? With the debates surrounding the upcoming EU referendum, it feels like a prime opportunity for Moore–although with his new approach of ‘conquering' those he admires, it sounds like he's not keen to invade us anytime soon.
Words by Martha Ling
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