WHERE TO INVADE NEXT (15) 2016 US 120mins, produced and directed by Michael Moore, Zoo Palast Berlin, Thursday 18th February, 12.30pm.
As you see above, we all, our family that is, went this year to the Berlin Film Festival, where we saw this film on the main screen at the gigantic Zoo Palast Cinema, in English with German subtitles. This was sometimes difficult as those in the audience who were reading were often ahead of those listening, which occasionally meant 750 or so people laughing over a punchline.
What I'm getting at is that this is a very funny film. Funny, and gentle, and humble. But it packs as big a punch as any of his other documentaries.
The Daily Mail has it that this is Michael Moore's least successful film so far. Maybe his earlier films had a more specific subject, something spelled out, the shootings at Colombine School for example, which made them an easier sell. The subject of this film is really American exceptionalism, that the USA stands for the best in the best of all possible worlds, but this isn't made explicit. Perhaps he was concerned that this topic was absolutely off limits. The only way he could discuss it was by simply not mentioning it.
In fact, it is entirely shot in Europe, though tellingly not the UK, with one detour to Tunisia in North Africa, with archive footage from the US. He picks a number of social issues, education, prisons, drug laws, women's rights, workers' rights, among others and travels to different places which do these things differently from his home country.
His basic message is that America's relentless focus on competition, on individual achievement at the expense of social good, is corrosive. Much of the humour, especially early in the film when he visits Italy, France and Finland, is the clear concern that his interviewees have for his American ideas and naiveté. The Finnish Minister of Education's look of pity when he says that schools no longer teach poetry is a wonderful image. As are the looks of horror on the French children when they see photos of school lunches in Boston.
But as the film progresses the message becomes darker. The cinema went very quiet when he discussed how Germany teaches its recent history to school students, but the double whammy of the War on Drugs and a prison system which is run for financial profit in the US, compared to total de-criminalisation of drug use in Portugal and a humane system of incarceration in Norway, made a clear point about a slave trade in all but name for black Americans.
The message isn't the superiority of Europe, God knows there are problems here, but that in these individual cases, in small ways, a focus on ways to improve peoples lives, by free university education for example, or by looking after their health, can have larger repercussions.
This film is a plea to Americans to look again, that an idée fixe is destructive, that there just might be something valuable in social good, in something simple like school without homework so children have time to play for example, that can help everyone.
The issues put like this can sound a little well-meaning, but as always, Michael Moore's treatment is never not entertaining. This is a genuine feel good film. See it if you can. And on the biggest screen you can find.