By Sherrie Li
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By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
Fahrenheit 9/11was clearly not the best movie at the 57th Cannes Film Festival. But it was undeniably the defining film of the historical moment. And so, in a festival that will be remembered for its good humor and modest pleasures, Michael Moore’s cauldron of Bush-scalding agitprop enjoyed a visibility as oversized as the director himself. Before it had been publicly screened, his movie had already become the world’s most famous documentary.
Of course, Cannes was ripe for the plucking. The days leading to the festival had been dominated by that other spectacle — the photos from Abu Ghraib — and by the time Moore collected his Palme d’Or last Saturday, one had grown accustomed to Europe’s reflexive disdain for the Bush administration. Le Monde ran a cover cartoon of Emperor Dubya in the Coliseum watching a naked Iraqi being menaced by a huge dog wearing an army helmet and combat boots. When Specialist Jeremy Sivits pleaded guilty to abusing prisoners, a newspaper headline offered the Spielbergian swipe “Sacrificing Private Sivits.” Not to be outdone by the French, the German magazine Stern ran a cover photo of Bush accompanied by the words “Moralisch bankrott” — a verdict you don’t need a translator to understand.
For all of Europe’s hostility to Bush, I encountered none of the anti-American bitterness I had before the Iraq war. These days, visiting Americans are treated with a kind of gentle, wry sympathy; indeed, the French almost feel sorry for us. It’s now understood that we, too, are victims of a dangerously idiotic president. It’s also assumed that Bush’s great nemesis is not John Kerry but Michael Moore, who is viewed as a heroic cross between Che Guevara and Mark Twain (though I’m still waiting for his Huckleberry Finn). As one emanation of our polarized Bush Culture — the leftist entrepreneur — he has become the modern international icon of the Working Class Hero. On the festival’s first Saturday, striking entertainment-industry workers marched along the Croisette chanting, “Michael Moore! Michael Moore!” The man himself emerged from his hotel to express his solidarity with their cause. They cheered, evidently unaware that Moore’s compassion for working people notoriously stops with those who work for him.
Moore is a master of feeding foreigners’ anti-American fantasies. At Cannes, I kept meeting people who actually think that Moore is treated like an outlaw in the U.S. — “Can you get his books?” one woman asked me, blissfully oblivious that Moore’s face has become inescapable here. Naturally, he played up Disney’s refusal to let Miramax distribute the film, and the Europeans — who think we don’t know about them — ate it up, actually believing that his movie might not get exhibited in the U.S. “Why doesn’t the film have a distributor?” they’d demand, and be shocked when my fellow critics told them the truth: The real stumbling block isn’t censorship but moola. Keenly aware that Fahrenheit 9/11 is going to make a fortune, Miramax and Moore were simply doing what any CEO president like George W. Bush would encourage them to do: holding out for the best possible deal.
Having pilloried Bowling for Columbine for its cheap shots and tireless self-promotion, I found Fahrenheit 9/11 surprisingly disciplined in its purpose: to defeat Bush in this fall’s election. Although still too baggy, this is not your usual Michael Moore picture. Gone are the condescending interviews with ordinary people, gone the moments when the camera grows fixated on Moore’s flabulously shambolic persona. While the movie starts out with some uproarious stuff, including a shot of Paul Wolfowitz sticking his comb in his mouth before using it to slick back his hair, it grows unexpectedly somber, becoming a scathing portrait of Bush’s response to 9/11, from the War on Terror to the invasion of Iraq. Weaving together countless facts that you probably already know, Moore doesn’t pretend to offer a groundbreaking exposé (which is what conservative critics chide it for failing to be). Rather, he presents a compelling counternarrative of the Bush presidency, an antidote to all those Republican ads you see on TV. It actually could help swing the election.
Watching Fahrenheit 9/11, I kept thinking the Democrats ought to hire him to make their spots — it’s miles better than anything the Kerry team has come up with. Moore is as good as Karl Rove at finding the lethal clip that depicts an opponent in sharp, devastating relief. At one point, we see Bush at a fund-raiser, addressing a crowd he calls “the haves and the have-mores.” As the well-heeled audience chortles, Bush adds, “Some people call you the elite. I call you my base.”
The Democrats should play that over and over, if only to freak out the Christian Right, who foolishly believe that Bush thinks he’s beholden to them.
In the decade since Pulp Fiction nabbed the Palme d’Or, the gap dividing Cannes from Hollywood has grown ever wider, with American studios reluctant to send their best movies only to see them shunned at awards time. (This year’s offerings included such masterworks as Troy, The Ladykillers and Irwin Winkler’s Cole Porter pic, De-Lovely, of which de-less said de-better.) Although nobody likes admitting it, this is a problem for festival organizers. Cannes is clearly the world’s greatest film festival, but it still needs Hollywood star power — and money — to maintain its pre-eminence on the international publicity map.
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