Michael Moore is out again to solve America's problems - and finds a number of solutions in Europe. His quasi-documentary "Where to Invade Next" makes its European premiere at the Berlinale.
Michael Moore is anything but inconspicuous. He had to cancel his trip to Berlin due to illness, but is making a larger-than-life appearance on screen. The heavy-weight American even seems to have gained a few extra pounds since he turned up at the Venice Film Festival a few years ago to present "Capitalism - A Love Story."
Five years have passed since then, and Moore's latest work, "Where to Invade Next," celebrated its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival last fall. Now it's making its European debut at the Berlinale, and opens in German cinemas on February 25.
When it comes to documentary filmmakers, hardly anyone enjoy as much popularity as Moore.
No conventional documentaries
Following its premiere in Canada, "Where to Invade Next" was said to be one of the most humorous and amusing films ever made by Moore. But are films by Michael Moore really that funny, considering works like "Bowling for Columbine" (2002), which criticized the American passion for firearms, and "Fahrenheit 9/11" (2004) about the mood in the US in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks?
Moore's documentaries are aggressive one-man shows, they're revealing, witty, and cynical. They're blatantly biased, but always entertaining. Their aesthetics tend to resemble sensationalized TV reports rather than traditional documentaries.
In search of the good
Michael Moore has once again applied his tried-and-true direct approach towards filmmaking in "Where to Invade Next," where he confronts interview parts with facts and questions and includes both their and his own opinions in the film. But in this work, there's something different.
"Where to Invade Next" is not a blatant accusation, at least not in the conventional sense. This time, Moore has set out on a journey through eight European countries and Tunisia, where he presents progressive social developments and trends relevant to the region.
In Italy, the topic is the relationship between employers and employees; in France it's all about the advantages of healthy nutrition; in Germany, he focuses on the attitude towards the country's own history.
In Norway, Moore addresses the advantages of a humane prison sentences, in Slovenia the fee-less university system, and in Tunisia he broaches the issue of women's rights in an Islamic society.
The loser is always the US
As he intended from the outset, Moore only discovers positive developments in each country, and at the end there's only one loser: the United States. Developments in Moore's home country, in the educational system or the penal system, in nutrition and attitudes towards history, look rather paltry and disastrous compared to the countries he visited.
The most powerful nation in the world hasn't won a war since World War II - even though they were in Vietnam, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, among other countries - and that grates on the American ego, purports Moore.
In his typical humorous fashion, Moore sets out on an "invasion" of his own - to a few countries whose names he can "mostly pronounce" - armed with a US flag that he sticks into the ground of those countries he visited towards the end of his stay there. His mission is to find helpful ideas to take back to the US, which has problems, he says, that no army can fix.
History lessons from Germany
In Germany, Moore tackles the past and explores how Germans have dealt with the Holocaust. He visits the Holocaust Monument in Berlin and scrutinizes history lessons in German schools, and compares all this with the situation in the US: How does the society there deal with its history of brutality against Native Americans and the fact that the country was largely built up on the backs of African slaves?
Moore asks all these questions - and his answer is always clear: The US has miserably failed.
According to Moore, the education system of the US is antiquated compared to that of Finland. Nutrition at American schools is miserable compared to France; the conditions in US jails are inhumane compared to Norway. And Moore asserts that Americans haven't learned anything from the finance crisis, whereas Iceland did a perfect job working their way out of financial ruin.
American achievements gone awry
And yet there is a glimmer of positivity in Moore's US bashing: The directors asserts that many of those wonderful foreign achievements he so much admires had originally been invented and introduced by the US - to then disappear over the course of time.
According to Moore, the factory workers of Chicago had originally raised awareness of workers' rights. American women had bravely fought for equal rights and self-determination. And the fathers of American democracy had seen to it that criminals would receive humane treatment.
Call for a revival of American virtues
"The American dream continues to live," states Moore at the end of "Where to Invade Next" - just outside of the US. But there is hope as the US is based on the principles of democracy and human rights, humanity and friendship.
Moore's journalistic concept does seem to be a bit simplistic.
Had he looked at the penal system in France, for example, at economic developments in Italy, or the increasing influence of right-wing forces on German society, he might have reached different conclusions. But maybe Moore wanted to render some moral support to Europeans as they currently face the refugee and EU crises.