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In Where to Invade Next, Michael Moore lays bare what America gets painfully wrong

Plus: eloquent storytelling around the refugee crisis in Fire at Sea.

Michael Moore has been so effective in documentary that most people have forgotten his solitary excursion into fiction film-making, Canadian Bacon, in which a US president attempts to boost his popularity by waging war against the cuddly Canucks. This idea is partly revisited in Where to Invade Next, which starts from the conceit that Moore has been assigned by his government to storm various countries and steal all their best ideas to compensate for decades of expensive failed military campaigns. Into factories, schools, living rooms and prisons he breezes; he’s large but he moves lightly, like a Hovercraft made of jelly. In his hands is a US flag, which he affects to plant wherever he sees a concept that takes his fancy. By showing in detail what everyone else gets right, Moore lays bare what America gets painfully wrong.

He starts in Italy, where he interviews a creosoted couple who list the extensive holiday time they are permitted by law, as well as the 15 days’ honeymoon and the magical “13th month”, which brings a double salary; Americans, by contrast, might get a week or two’s paid leave if they have a powerful union. In a French school, Moore sits at a tiny lunch-hall table among eight-year-olds and samples the lip-smacking meals that come as standard. Then he shares with his fellow diners pictures of what their US counterparts are eating. “Qu’est-ce que c’est?” gasps one child, gesturing fearfully at a neon blob of sauce, gristle and MSG.

Slovenia is lauded for its free universities, Germany for its workers’ rights. In Norway, he sees the compassionate prison system devoted to rehabilitation. The even-handedness with which the mass murderer Anders Breivik was treated is contrasted with footage of black suspects being routinely beaten by police on the streets of America.

Moore concedes that the countries he visits have their problems. “But my job is to pick the flowers,” he says, “not the weeds.” It’s a neat metaphor, except that in picking flowers one is also killing them – a tacit acknowledgement, perhaps, that a simple replanting of ideas could never work. Besides, who wants to stare at nothing but flowers for 120 minutes? What begins as enchanting or amusing quickly wears thin. No one expects Moore to do anything drastic – say, remove his baseball cap. But Where to Invade Next lacks muscle. Even documentaries need dramatic tension; this one is comprised solely of contented people being informed that their lives are tickety-boo. After a while, you can’t take any Moore.

The inhabitants of Lampedusa, the island that is the subject of Fire at Sea, might take issue with Moore’s claim that “Italians always look like they just had sex”. Gianfranco Rosi spent a year among the islanders for this restrained, humane documentary, which won the top prize at the Berlin Film Festival. The main focus is Samuele, a 12-year-old who goofs around with slingshots and firecrackers and seems oblivious to the crisis unfolding around him. Situated between Libya and Sicily, his home has become a stepping stone and pit stop for more than 150,000 refugees a year who are escaping from Africa in overcrowded boats. Those who aren’t dead are malnourished and dehydrated; wrapped in glistening gold foil capes, they could be trembling wizards. The bereaved sob in one another’s arms, if they can muster the energy.

We eavesdrop on distress calls and accompany the rescue efforts scooping survivors from the water. A doctor examines a pregnant woman by ultrasound, then confesses privately that he dreams about these people and their suffering. “It is the duty of every human being to help them,” he says. Rosi is too subtle a director to start tub-thumping but he lets those words hang in the air as an invitation to us. And his editing is eloquent. A signora chops tomatoes in her kitchen as the radio broadcasts news of the previous night’s sinking; “Poor souls,” she sighs. Little Samuele throws up over the side of his father’s boat, behind him a brace of quivering squid. Their wide, frightened eyes look awfully familiar. 

 

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

This article first appeared in the 09 June 2016 issue of the New Statesman, A special issue on Britain in Europe

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How power shifted dramatically in this week’s Game of Thrones

The best-laid plans of Mothers and men often go awry.

Last week’s Game of Thrones was absolutely full of maps. It had more maps than a Paper Towns/Moonrise Kingdom crossover. More maps than an Ordnance Survey walking tour of a cartographer’s convention. More maps than your average week on CityMetric.

So imagine the cheers of delight when this week’s episode, “Stormborn”, opened with – yes, a map! Enter Daenerys, casting her eyes over her carved table map (Ikea’s Västeross range, I believe), deciding whether to take King’s Landing and the iron throne from Cersei or a different path. After some sassy debates with Varys over loyalty, more members of her court enter to point angrily at different grooves in the table as Dany and Tyrion move their minature armies around the board.

In fact, this whole episode had a sense of model parts slotting pleasingly into place. Melisandre finally moved down the board from Winterfell to Dragonstone to initiate the series’ most inevitable meeting, between The King of the North and the Mother of Dragons. Jon is hot on her heels. Arya crossed paths with old friends Hot Pie and Nymeria, and the right word spoken at the right time saw her readjust her course to at last head home to the North. Tyrion seamlessly anticipated a move from Cersei and changed Dany’s tack accordingly. There was less exposition than last week, but the episode was starting to feel like an elegant opening to a long game of chess.

All this made the episode’s action-filled denouement all the more shocking. As Yara, Theon and Ellaria dutifully took their place in Dany’s carefully mapped out plans, they were ambushed by their mad uncle Euron (a character increasingly resembling Blackbeard-as-played-by-Jared-Leto). We should have known: just minutes before, Yara and Ellaria started to get it on, and as TV law dictates, things can never end well for lesbians. As the Sand Snakes were mown down one by one, Euron captured Yara and dared poor Theon to try to save her. As Theon stared at Yara’s desperate face and tried to build up the courage to save her, we saw the old ghost of Reek quiver across his face, and he threw himself overboard. It’s an interesting decision from a show that has recently so enjoyed showing its most abused characters (particularly women) delight in showy, violent acts of revenge. Theon reminds us that the sad reality of trauma is that it can make people behave in ways that are not brave, or redemptive, or even kind.

So Euron’s surprise attack on the rest of the Greyjoy fleet essentially knocked all the pieces off the board, to remind us that the best-laid plans of Mothers and men often go awry. Even when you’ve laid them on a map.

But now for the real question. Who WAS the baddest bitch of this week’s Game of Thrones?

Bad bitch points are awarded as follows:

  • Varys delivering an extremely sassy speech about serving the people. +19.
  • Missandei correcting Dany’s High Valerian was Extremely Bold, and I, for one, applaud her. +7.
  • The prophecy that hinges on a gender-based misinterpretation of the word “man” or “prince” has been old since Macbeth, but we will give Dany, like, two points for her “I am not a prince” chat purely out of feminist obligation. +2.
  • Cersei having to resort to racist rhetoric to try and persuade her own soldiers to fight for her. This is a weak look, Cersei. -13.
  • Samwell just casually chatting back to his Maester on ancient medicine even though he’s been there for like, a week, and has read a total of one (1) book on greyscale. +5. He seems pretty wrong, but we’re giving points for sheer audacity.
  • Cersei thinking she can destroy Dany’s dragon army with one (1) big crossbow. -15. Harold, they’re dragons.
  • “I’ve known a great many clever men. I’ve outlived them all. You know why? I ignored them.” Olenna is the queen of my LIFE. +71 for this one (1) comment.
  • Grey Worm taking a risk and being (literally) naked around someone he loves. +33. He’s cool with rabid dogs, dizzying heights and tumultuous oceans, but clearly this was really scary for him. It’s important and good to be vulnerable!! All the pats on the back for Grey Worm. He really did that.
  • Sam just fully going for it and chopping off all of Jorah’s skin (even though he literally… just read a book that said dragonglass can cure greyscale??). +14. What is this bold motherfucker doing.
  • Jorah letting him. +11.
  • “You’ve been making pies?” “One or two.” Blatant fan service from psycho killer Arya, but I fully loved it. +25.
  • Jon making Sansa temporary Queen in the North. +7.
  • Sansa – queen of my heart and now Queen in the North!!! +17.
  • Jon choking Littlefinger for perving over Sansa. +19. This would just be weird and patriarchal, but Littlefinger is an unholy cunt and Sansa has been horrifically abused by 60 per cent of the men who have ever touched her.
  • Nymeria staring down the woman who once possessed her in a delicious reversal of fortune. +13. Yes, she’s a wolf but she did not consent to being owned by a strangely aggressive child.
  • Euron had a big win. So, regrettably, +10.

​That means this week’s bad bitch is Olenna Tyrell, because who even comes close? This week’s loser is Cersei. But, as always, with the caveat that when Cersei is really losing – she strikes hard. Plus, Qyburn’s comment about the dragon skeletons under King’s Landing, “Curious that King Robert did not have them destroyed”, coupled with his previous penchant for re-animated dead bodies, makes me nervous, and worry that – in light of Cersei’s lack of heir – we’re moving towards a Cersei-Qyburn-White Walkers alliance. So do watch out.

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.