Director: Michael Moore | 119 minutes | documentary
The title of this documentary is a cynical reference to the tendency the United States seems to have towards invading countries where something can be obtained. In “Where to Invade Next,” Moore declares to be a one-man army on an expedition to countries that are better off than the US in one or more ways. Armed with a flag, his name appears to open a surprising number of doors; in Slovenia he even makes it to a meeting with their president. The far-reaching access Moore claims offers an interesting and humorous insight into countries where they approach things differently. Unfortunately, the uncritical, all-admiring framing of the images quickly becomes tiresome.
Moore visits nine countries consecutively, and to justify the title, he continues the gimmick of planting the American flag in the immediate vicinity of the people he’s just visited. This is soon no longer funny, but that is offset by the shy reactions from bystanders. Moore deserves a lot of credit for the locations he has selected within each country and the figures he draws for the camera. For example, the first country on his itinerary is Italy, where he speaks to a couple who react so dramatically and shocked to the lack of vacation days in the US that it almost seems acted out. In France he eats from the luxurious menu in a school canteen, where the students react in disgust to his offer of a sip of Coca-Cola, and in Portugal he screams at a group of timidly blinking police officers that he has drugs with him while they continue to shrug . The type of disrespectful humor with which Moore portrays his research subjects regularly causes a laugh; the strongly cynical undertone of the whole comes mainly from the American’s anti-military attitude. At the same time, Moore embraces his own Americanness in its entirety, and the obese documentary maker walks into the presidential palace of Slovenia as a personification of the stereotype in his dirty sneakers, in jeans, and in his eternal cap.
Any government directive in the country visited that comes out better compared to the US can count on a shocked response from Moore, leaving the filmmaker open-mouthed for much of the time. This contrived attitude seems to be taken on behalf of his audience, which can make it feel like an opinion is being expertly pushed down your throat. Also creating friction is Moore’s flashy interview technique, where he fires a staccato of similar questions at his subject to highlight his surprise and awe at local customs. The interviewee, or the victim, has no choice but to respond with “Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes ”- good for some chuckles, but – again – it quickly feels gimmicky. A low point is an interview with a Norwegian father who lost his son in the massacre that Anders Breivik caused on Utøya, with Moore hammering on him and asking why he grants Breivik humane treatment in prison. Moore’s higher purpose of emphasizing contrast is clearly beyond attempts to fathom this man’s human psyche.
Moreover, this raises another point: not everything that Moore jubilantly embraces as the approach from which the US can learn something is undisputed. Breivik frolics around in a “solitary cell” consisting of three rooms and a garden, and recently showed his lack of remorse with a Hitler salute in court. The payment of a thirteenth month’s salary in Italy can also count on some European opposition. Of course, Moore declares that he wants to pick the flowers from every land and not the weeds. But even a fraction more nuance could have made a big difference. An important question is actually: what kind of audience does Michael Moore think of his documentaries? Would a patriotic, weapon-bearing American last to the end? It is absolutely possible, judging by the forced manner in which a Norwegian prisoner guard claims they have taken the idea of “no cruel and unusual punishment” in their legal system from the US Constitution. However, it is more likely that the documentary maker is mainly aiming at an audience that can appreciate his stitches to the homeland, and if you are preaching for your own parish then you have to come up with something better than pointing out what is obvious.