Cannes Wrap-Up: Michael Moore's Latest And Leo's Global Warming Doc

by | May 20, 2007 | Comments

Michael Moore‘s latest doc, "Sicko," has stirred up more controversy for the Michigan muckraker. Is he onto something with his evisceration of the US healthcare system? Plus, "The 11th Hour," a climate change doc featuring Leonardo DiCaprio, and "Boarding Gate," an unconvincing, sleazy thriller starring Asia Argento and Michael Madsen — all here at Cannes!

"Sicko," Michael Moore‘s latest polemic, contains many of the same problems as his previous works: it’s a manipulative oversimplification of a complex issue. And like Moore’s other films, it also contains more than a kernel of truth and not a little entertainment as well. Screening out of competition at Cannes, "Sicko" is a screed against health care insurers in the United States. Utilizing the same style as his previous docs (onscreen interviews, stock footage, a bemused voiceover), Moore contends that the health of Americans has been compromised because of the greed and insensitivity of an industry focused on profit. This argument has plenty of weight when he points out that Americans put themselves in the hands of the government for such services as schools and police; what’s wrong with health care? And Moore dredges up a number of horror stories, including poor people ejected from hospitals because they were unable to pay, to others denied lifesaving procedures while being mired in bureaucratic red tape.

Moore is on shakier ground when he travels to Canada, Great Britain, and France, each of which provides universal health care to its citizens. He posits that citizens in these nations are perfectly satisfied with their level of care. Unfortunately, some of Moore’s utopian extrapolations in this regard don’t hold water; it was reported that at a press conference after the screening, some Canadian journalists challenged Moore’s rosy assumptions, and Moore admitted that national health care in Canada, while free, is still under-funded.

Michael Moore has a point to make about healthcare in his latest, "Sicko."

"Sicko"’s biggest (and most controversial) stunt involves bringing a group of 9/11 rescue workers, who contracted various unrelenting ailments while working at Ground Zero, to Guantanamo, where the U.S. government claims detainees are receiving health care that’s equivalent to or better than the average American. After being ignored, Moore heads for Cuba, where the relief workers are able to purchase the drugs for which they’ve been paying hundreds of dollars for pennies. This segment is troubling on several levels. Regardless of one’s thoughts on the U.S. embargo on Cuba, Moore cannot seriously believe its healthcare system is ideal. On the other hand, what does it say about the U.S. that it cannot care for its heroes?

For those who have tired of Moore’s confrontational onscreen persona, he’s largely in the background in "Sicko." This may be Moore’s most quietly angry film to date. I won’t deny I was entertained while watching "Sicko," and I don’t disagree with Moore’s central premise. However, as with "Roger & Me" and "Bowling for Columbine," Moore may get the forest right, but the trees are a bit out of place.

Moore remains a darling of Cannes (he won the Palme d’Or for "Fahrenheit 9/11" in 2004), and "Sicko" received a long ovation at the screening I attended. It’s also received fresh reviews in Variety, the Hollywood Reporter, and Salon.

Leonardo DiCaprio talks global warming in "11th Hour."

"The 11th Hour" is the latest in the growing sub-genre of global warming documentaries. Narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio, the film features a number of talking heads, including Stephen Hawking, Mikhail Gorbachev, Andrew Weil, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai. Each makes a similar argument in different ways: The temperature of earth is increasing because of human behavior, and we don’t have much time to rectify the situation. But the film leavens its doomsday prophesies with optimism, advancing the notion that green-friendly business could maintain economic growth while diminishing the impact to the environment. "The 11th Hour" is reasonably well done, but it often feels like a film more suited to a science class than the big screen. It also lacks the focus and wit of "An Inconvenient Truth"; that film greatly benefited from Al Gore‘s straight-ahead argument, whereas "The 11th Hour" seems a bit disjointed by comparison. Still, even if this isn’t the most cinematically compelling take on the subject of global warming, "The 11th Hour" makes a timely and important argument that should be heeded.

There’s a lot going on here at Cannes; check out our blog here.

A necessary element of a successful thriller is the ability to empathize with characters in peril; on this, and many other levels, "Boarding Gate" fails. This exercise in sleazy globetrotting stars Asia Argento as ex-hooker Sandra and Michael Madsen as Miles, her washed-up businessman ex. The pair has a twisted relationship, which involves a lot of verbal challenges and lurid mind games. Sandra is also involved with Lester (Carl Ng), with whom she conspires to take down Miles. After completing her task, Sandra goes on the run, ending up in Hong Kong where she’s pursued by… well, somebody. Do we care about her? Not really. Argento and Madsen, who have been compelling elsewhere, are so fundamentally unlikable here that it’s hard to shake the feeling that these two deserve each other; though Sandra’s nominally the protagonist, she seems as amoral as Miles. "Boarding Gate" isn’t without visual interest, but it’s also confusing and lacks any real human element. "Boarding Gate" prompted more than a few walkouts and incredulous laughs at the press screening I attended, and it also received outright pans in the Hollywood Reporter and Variety.

In addition, here are some other notable films that have screened at Cannes in the past few days: "L’Avocat de la Terreur," Barbet Schroeder‘s doc about a French attorney famous for representing accused war criminals and terrorists, has received strong reviews from Variety and the Hollywood Reporter; on the other hand, "Les Chansons d’Amour," Christophe Honore‘s musical, has gotten mixed notices.

Screening tomorrow: "Death Proof!"

Tomorrow, we’ll be catching screenings of Quentin Tarantino‘s "Death Proof," "A Mighty Heart," starring Angelina Jolie, and Gus Van Sant‘s "Paranoid Park." Check back for more of RT’s coverage of the Cannes Film Festival.

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