By Sascha Krieger
Where to Invade Next (Berlinale Special / United States / Director: Michael Moore)
Ever since Roger and Me, his biting 1989 attack on corporate America, Michael Moore has been film’s number one crusader against everything that is wrong in his home country, becoming a liberal icon and a primary target of conservative in the process. Moore has long become larger than his films, so it is nice change of pace to see him re-emerge as a film maker in Where to Invade Next. With this, his focus shifts from ranting about what’s wrong in America to what could be done better. The film’s premise: After decades of unsuccessful wars, the U.S. military leadership looks for a different strategy. Enter Moore who, as a one-man army „invades“ one country after the other to take things that can benefit America. So he „steals“ free university from Slovenia, free and healthy school lunches from France, eight weeks of vacation from Italy, women’s rights from Tunisia and Iceland (the latter also inspiring him to take banks accountable for their actions), decriminalisation of drug addicts from Portugal, a rehabilitation-focused prison system from Norway and, from Germany, things like free preventive health care, workers‘ participation and, most importantly, the willingness to face the dark aspects of the national past and learn from them.
Whereas his last few films were driven by anger – which is not absent here, particularly in a rather crude conspiracy theory segment about the „war on drugs“ – this one is fueled by curiosity, that comes across as faux-naive but does mirror the incredulity some American viewers will feel when seeing how many of the things their politicians tell them are impossible actually work in other parts of the world. Moore’s view is a more optimistic one, right down to the remarkable conclusion that many of the things he encounters are based on genuinely American ideas. While Moore simplifies and polemicises (though less markedly) as he always does, the positive outlook, the playful premise and the non-confrontational interviews with many of the interviewees mirroring Moore’s show of disbelief – the Portuguese cop’s appeal against the death penalty has to be seen! – give the film a gentler flow, the aggressiveness that marred some of his other efforts being gone. He gives his interviewees time, allows their statements and his discoveries to sink in, is less interested in staged confrontations and soundbites. So while his key techniques of juxtaposition and montage are not entirely absent, they do not dominate, making Where to Invade Next Moore’s first film in a long time in which the film maker actually seems to care about the story he’s telling rather than just driving home a foregone conclusion. And so the film manages to capture and hold the audience’s attention, giving them more to think than chuckle about. For a Michael Moore film, that is some achievement.