Not many socially critical documentaries leave you half-amused or even inspired when walking out of a movie theater on a cold and windy February evening. I must admit that I actually had this feeling after watching Michael Moore’s latest docu-film “Where to invade next” (2016).
Six years after laying low the director who’s become worldfamous for “Bowling for Columbine” and “Fahrenheit 9/11” has his comeback – but not in the United States, as one would expect, but in Europe where he’s got a mission to accomplish: What lessons can the US and Americans in general learn from European countries? This is the fundamental and intriguing moral question and it is Moore’s reason to experience diverse countries – from Italy, France, Finland, Slovenia, Germany, Norway, Iceland to Tunisia.
With his questions, a naive curiosity and his comedian yet cynically critical approach, Moore once again manages to make you stunned by the coherently strong analysis and the answers he finds on his journey:
Why do the Italians enjoy “la bella vita” and why is working not always profit accumulation and egoistic wealth spending? Why do French kids enjoy vegetables even if you could doubt that they’ve never seen McDonald’s and don’t know what Coca Cola is?
Yes, Michael Moore does play with stereotypes and in a way it’s the positive bias – “the flowers and not the weeds” in his words – that he picks to make his point against senseless military spending and a never-ending “war on terror”. Of course, critics may argue that these flowers don’t grow the same way in every European country. For instance, Greeks can only dream of Christmas and 13-month salaries if they get paid at all while Germans can only dream of drug legalization the way it exists in Portugal – if they are for legalization, that is.
But his point is more general and goes beyond these limitations: How come the brutal war on drugs in the US is enforced with the war on terror and illegal immigration and has become a war on race indeed? And how come prisoners in Norway’s cosy golf resort-like prison grounds will be resocialized way better than those who face the most brutal treatment in high-security prison cells where they get beaten like dogs?
On his quest Moore talks to a lot of interesting characters – to murderers, school children, teenagers, factory workers and state presidents. They try to share their points of view on how society can be managed differently and perhaps with greater success than the model of the “American dream”, which is promoted but hardly lived anymore due to societal constraints and limitations.
We can learn from the mindset of different cultures and not from locking up our minds. It is a privilege to travel, it is even a greater privilege to travel AND to learn. Moore has shown that one can do both and create a brilliant and very reflective artistic documentary by doing so.
© Film review by Stephan Haderer