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Venice 09: Capitalism, A Love Story

Posted on Sunday September 6, 2009, 10:07 by Damon Wise in Cannes Film Festival
Venice 09: Capitalism, A Love Story

Michael Moore arrived in Venice fresh from the edit suite with a film so new, it features footage shot in early 2009. Pre-publicity for the film was sketchy, but the title alone – Capitalism, A Love Story – was a bit of a giveaway. Much more like his breakout hit Bowling For Columbine than the recent health-industry expose Sicko, it is arguably his best since Fahrenheit 911 and, although flawed, it's quite a worthy successor. It's highly possible that Moore may revisit the film after the reviews he reads in the next few days, so some of these flaws may not make the release version, but on the evidence of the festival cut, Moore may have another hit on his hands. Not on the scale of F911 but better than any documentary about the recent financial crisis could ever expect to be.

It begins with a warning, lifted from the 60s drive-in horror flick Blood Feast, warning the young and the easily upset to leave the cinema. Then Moore really sinks his teeth in: the credits roll over a montage of bank robberies, one felon pausing to kiss his ill-gotten gains as the title card fills the screen and Iggy Pop's version of Louie Louie blares over the sound system. It's very representative of the film; loose, irreverent and, surprisingly, not as hectoring as you might expect. The first half, however, is the weakest, and the film takes a surprising while to get going after such an energetic start. It begins with a family being evicted from their home, and after some protracted footage of people sobbing and police officers looking fat and grim, Moore announces his intention: to find out how things got so bad in America. The problem, he claims, started with Reagan, the first modern president to forge direct links between government and commerce. And as America embraced hardcore free enterprise, Moore reasons, America enjoyed short-term profit and long-term depression, losing its status in the world market as the countries it bombed into redundancy during World War Two rebuilt their factories and gradually returned to the trading table, stronger than ever before. Moore goes so far as to compare the effect on modern-day America to the events preceding the fall of the Roman Empire, and it's not hard to see his point.

It takes a while for the film's trajectory to suggest itself, since Moore begins by assembling case studies of bad capitalism, in particular a privatised jail service that routinely sent innocent teens to lock-up just to keep business booming. He also reveals that the average airline pilot is paid less than the manager of the average Taco Bell. But it's in the second half where the good stuff lies, and Moore – with admirable efficiency – paints a very clear picture of what happened last year when the gravy train ran out, Congress was hijacked, and billions of US taxpayers' dollars were paid to settle the debts of mavericks who, since the deregulation of Wall Street, had been effectively involved in high-stakes gambling. These scenes, calmly handled, really show this for what it was: daylight robbery, orchestrated by Bush's advisors and rushed through in his last days of office.

Capitalism: A Love Story does two things very well. One thing is to demystify a lot of the jargon, and explores – as Moore has done in all of his films – how governments use fear to manipulate the public. The other thing is that it ends with a note of hope, suggesting alternatives to capitalism and paying testament to the power of community spirit. His final words are very poignant, and though I think I'm misremembering them, they go something like this: “I can't live in a country like this. But I'm not leaving.” You might disagree with some of the things he says, and how he says them (indeed that's part of the fun). But there's something very endearing about Moore's Mr Deeds schtick, and if he stopped making these movies, the gap he'd leave – and the silence – would be profound indeed.

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Comments

1 El-Branden Brazil
Posted on Monday September 7, 2009, 15:55
For all his flaws, and we all have some, Mr. Moore is a very important, timely voice. He may not be an intellectual heavyweight of Leftwing Liberal political thinking, but he is the loudest voice, most able to concise the ideas of the Left into easily chewable, delectable soundbites for the masses.

2 tysmuse
Posted on Monday September 7, 2009, 23:38
I think M. Moore is a very genuine guy who doesn't yet get the appreciation he deserves. You simply cannot watch one of his movies and at the end go "Hmmm, I don't think that is a better way of doing it".

3 holland
Posted on Tuesday September 8, 2009, 09:55
I've always thought the criticism of Moore was somewhat out of proportion to his flaws. I once heard him called "the left wing Rush Limbaugh". Not even close! For one thing, their views are coming from very different parts of the soul (if you'll excuse the woolly concept). Rush comes from a position of fear and small-mindedness and bullyboy malice, picking on the most vulnerable in society. Moore is clearly sticking up for the small guy. They might both resort to polemic and a little distortion, but otherwise there's a world of difference between them.

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