Diss Kap­i­tal

Michael Moore’s lat­est doc­u­men­tary is both mov­ing and blackly com­i­cal, and his best since Roger and Me, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film -

ABOUT A decade ago, Nick Cave an­nounced that he was go­ing to record an al­bum com­posed en­tirely of mur­der bal­lads. At the time, more than a few wags won­dered how the new LP would dif­fer from ev­ery other record re­leased by Cave.

Michael Moore watch­ers could be for­given for re­act­ing sim­i­larly when catch­ing sight of the ironic ti­tle for the bulky doc­u­men­tar­ian’s new pic­ture. Moore has de­cided to take a shot at cap­i­tal­ism? It’s like hear­ing that Lars Von Trier was to release a film called Cheek­ily Provoca­tive Shock Drama Fea­tur­ing Gra­tu­itous Nu­dity. Who’d have thought it?

As it hap­pens, Cap­i­tal­ism: A Love Story turns out to be Moore’s least ten­den­tious, most sin­cerely felt film since 1989’s Roger and Me. It’s not quite as funny as ei­ther Bowl­ing for Columbine or Fahren­heit 911, but, fea­tur­ing fewer de­ranged con­spir­acy the­o­ries and re­ly­ing less on du­bi­ous


half-truths, it’s some­what less dif­fi­cult to dis­miss as an empty polemic for the al­ready con­verted.

Moore’s spe­cific sub­ject is, of course, the clutch of fi­nan­cial typhoons that struck the West­ern world over the last two years. He be­gins with a supreme ex­am­ple of his ge­nius for comic mon­tage. While an an­cient En­cy­clopae­dia Bri­tan­nica film talks us through the fall of Rome, Moore cuts to var­i­ous con­tem­po­rary par­al­lels to the events and sit­u­a­tions de­scribed. Men­tion of cir­cuses is fol­lowed by shots of Amer­i­can Idol. Men­tion of char­iot races is suc­ceeded by footage of a Nascar race.

“By what will fu­ture gen­er­a­tions judge us?” Moore asks. We are then of­fered two al­ter­na­tives: a se­ries of com­i­cally cap­tioned lol­cats and a mid­dle-aged cou­ple be­ing evicted from their fam­ily farm.

Thus the film con­tin­ues. Grim, of­ten sin­cerely mov­ing scenes fea­tur­ing cap­i­tal­ism’s vic­tims are jux­ta­posed with mo­ments of pointed ab­sur­dity. As we progress, the hu­mour gets steadily more sav­age.

Though Cap­i­tal­ism is less gim­micky than its pre­de­ces­sors, Moore fans will still en­counter a num­ber of their hero’s great­est hits. Once again, as in Roger and Me, he makes a fu­tile at­tempt to stomp his way up to the board­room of Gen­eral Motors. He stands on Wall Street and fu­tilely seeks ad­vice from bankers, only for a some guy to shout: “Don’t make any more movies!” And, yes, he drags out Ge­orge Bush for one more stream of inar­tic­u­late gib­ber­ish.

Sure, th­ese se­quences are cheap. But who doesn’t en­joy laugh­ing at W’s dan­gling par­tici­ples, or watch­ing Michael Moore be­ing man­han­dled by baf­fled se­cu­rity men. Those are two com­edy sta­ples of the age.

The gags do not, how­ever, overly dis­tract from the power of Moore’s larger ar­gu­ment (or larger ques­tion). Af­ter point­ing us to­wards some truly mind-bog­gling scan­dals – most notably a scheme, brazenly nick­named “dead peas­ants”, that al­lows ma­jor cor­po­ra­tions to profit from their em­ploy­ees’ deaths – he goes on to sug­gest that the en­tire cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem may be in­her­ently evil. (Some view­ers may be im­pressed that lo­cal priests and bish­ops agree with him, but I saw no rea­son to lis­ten more closely to them than to any­body else.)

With this ar­gu­ment, the film dares to chal­lenge both lib­eral com­pla­cency and con­ser­va­tive free-mar­ket evan­ge­lism. The ex­pert in the film who comes clos­est to re­flect­ing Moore’s zeal is, iron­i­cally, a right-wing jour­nal­ist for the Wash­ing­ton Post. By sug­gest­ing that democ­racy is less im­por­tant than the main­te­nance of the free mar­ket, he, too, al­lows him­self to think the think­able.

Does it mat­ter that Moore is so vague about the al­ter­na­tive? Surely not. No smart di­ag­nos­ti­cian will avoid ex­am­in­ing a pa­tient sim­ply be­cause he sus­pects the fel­low’s dis­ease may have no ef­fec­tive cure. Moore can­not be faulted for his righ­teous anger or his abil­ity to trans­form the fury into vi­ciously pow­er­ful jokes.

Mind you, the big­gest laugh in Cap­i­tal­ism is per­haps un­in­ten­tional. In one un­for­tu­nate mo­ment, Moore dis­cusses the re­gen­er­a­tion of the Ger­man and Ja­panese car in­dus­tries af­ter the war. Those na­tion’s cars, ap­par­ently, “rarely if ever break down”.

Oops! Toy­ota own­ers might dis­agree. AS IT’S awards sea­son, we re­ally should in­vent some sort of gong for the mak­ers of this cos­mi­cally atro­cious rom­com. The Golden Mo­ron? The Lobotomised Re­ac­tionary? Some­thing like that.

Leap Year man­ages to be stom­ach-churn­ingly of­fen­sive in two dis­tinct fields. We have be­come used to the con­tem­po­rary rom­com re­duc­ing women to the sta­tus of 13th-cen­tury in­den­tured serfs, but the at­ti­tudes here im­posed on Amy Adams would seem un­so­phis­ti­cated to a lady sea slug.

Em­ployed in some par­tic­u­larly re­volt­ing area of an up­mar­ket es­tate agency, Adams, a prim New Yorker, is frus­trated by her boyfriend’s re­fusal to pro­pose mar­riage. Then, shortly af­ter he heads to Dublin for work, her fa­ther re­minds her of an an­cient Ir­ish custom that states that, on Fe­bru­ary 29th of a leap year, a woman can pro­pose to a man.

Well, fancy that. Is Adams also al­lowed to walk the street un­ac­com­pa­nied on this day? Can she re­move her muz­zle? Does she get a day off from rit­ual can­ing?

Any­way, Amy heads to Ire­land, but, af­ter a ter­ri­ble storm hits, finds her­self di­rected to Wales. She se­cures a boat ride to Din­gle – I know, I know, but ge­og­ra­phy is the least of our prob­lems here – and, af­ter hook­ing up with Matthew Goode’s bizarrely ac­cented pub­li­can, be­gins mak­ing her way north­wards.

How vile is the pa­tro­n­is­ing por­trayal of Ire­land and its peo­ple in this wretched piece of cin­e­matic or­dure? Well, old men lean on walls and spout su­per­sti­tious gib­ber­ish to any­body within earshot. Em­ploy­ees of the rail­way cast their eyes to heaven at the no­tion of trains on a Sun­day. Land­ladies ex­press dis­gust at the con­cept of un­mar­ried cou­ples at­tempt­ing to se­cure a room.

Oddly, how­ever, it is one tiny snatch of ap­par­ently in­signif­i­cant di­a­logue that re­ally bur­rows its way into the part of the brain that gen­er­ates righ­teous anger. Yes. A mi­nor char­ac­ter ac­tu­ally says “top of the morn­ing to you”.

Let’s hope the team don’t chose to set their next pic­ture in China. That na­tion might not take kindly to, say, Goode pulling his eyes back into slits and mouthing the words “Velly good. Velly good” at the love in­ter­est.

If a worse film is re­leased this year I’ll eat my own weight in cud­dly leprechauns. So I will. So I will.

No cam­eras: Michael Moore rakes some cor­po­rate muck in Cap­i­tal­ism: A Love Story

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