Sicko (Michael Moore)
Hey, did you know that the Canadian health care system is far superior to its American counterpart—compassionate rather than cutthroat, guaranteeing every citizen the medical assistance they need regardless of their income? And did you know that the British health care system is also far superior to its American counterpart—compassionate rather than cutthroat, guaranteeing everyone the medical assistance they need regardless of their income? And did you know that the French health care system is also far superior to its American counterpart—compassionate rather than cutthroat, guaranteeing everyone the medical assistance they need regardless of their income?
Sicko isn't a bad film, exactly, but anyone who's seen even one of Michael Moore's previous screed-cum-documentaries could probably give a fairly accurate summary of its content, sight unseen. As in Fahrenheit 9/11, Moore leans heavily on admittedly affecting but patently manipulative sob stories, introducing us to various ailing Americans whose claims were inexplicably rejected, denied or even rescinded by their insurers. Trouble is, he has fewer facts and arguments to buttress the human-interest element this time—or, rather, the problem with the U.S. health-care system is so obvious (in a word: capitalism) that even the for-Dummies version requires only a few minutes of screen time. And so Moore drags us to country after country, so that we can see for ourselves the deductible-free paradise in which the rest of the civilized world lives. He's right, of course, but that doesn't make it any more illuminating to be told the same thing repeatedly for two hours.
Also, I must say that I'm starting to sympathize with the anti-Moore faction. Late in Sicko, Moore reveals, with audible self-satisfaction, that he anonymously sent $12,000 to pay medical expenses for the wife of Jim Kenefick, the guy who runs the anti-Moore website Moorewatch.com. Which seems like a remarkably generous and altruistic act, until it dawns on you that its primary purpose was to make Moore look remarkably generous and altruistic, since his anonymous donation is now the last-laugh climax of a major motion picture. Stunts like this, and like the film's much-discussed trip to Guantanamo Bay (which is like taking people who can't afford a TV set to federal prison and demanding that they be allowed to watch the season finale of Heroes there), make me wish all the more fervently that the left had found a less Coulteresque demagogue.
Breath (Kim Ki-duk)
You know, it's hard enough for those of us who admire the much-derided (among the cognoscenti) Korean filmmaker Kim Ki-duk without Cannes repeatedly selecting his very worst films, suggesting by the imprimatur that they're among his very best. Breath, Kim's latest effort, isn't as blatantly ludicrous as The Bow, which opened Un Certain Regard two years ago, but it'll likely be remembered as the movie in which his predilection for mute protagonists officially became intolerable even to his fans. Here, the hero, a condemned killer played by Chang Chen (who doesn't speak Korean), keeps attempting suicide by stabbing himself in the throat, which conveniently leaves him unable to speak. But he can still gaze with longing at the unhappy and equally laconic housewife (Zia) who sees him on television, impulsively shows up at the prison, and proceeds to guide him through a year-long relationship in four visits, using seasonally-themed wallpaper and pop songs to denote the passing of time. These musical interludes have a gutsy, am-I-really-seeing-this? vigor that the rest of the picture sorely lacks, and Kim's enabling conceit—he appears as the prisons warden or something, seen only in reflections on a monitor, and inexplicably permits the couples improper rendezvous—may be the most feeble instance of director-as-God since Ed Harris in The Truman Show. The less said about the sub-Genet homoerotic nonsense back in Chen's cell, the better. How the festival could prefer Breath to Kim's last film, the superb and richly allegorical Time, which screened here only in the Market, is beyond my comprehension. It's as if they'd turned down Vinterberg's The Celebration, then programmed It's All About Love.