France Cheers Moore, Jeers Bush

The big news for many over the past weekend was Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 911” being awarded the Golden Palm as best film at the Cannes Film Festival – the same movie, you’ll recall, that Disney does not want to distribute, despite the White House press statement issued in response to the award maintaining that it demonstrated that the US was a country of freedom of expression. (For others, with perhaps a more myopic view of the world, the big news was that President Bush fell off of his mountain bike. But we’ll be getting to that incident, too.) With his victory, Moore became the first documentary-maker since Jacques Cousteau in 1956 to win the Festival’s top prize, and at the same time he scored some big political points against the his arch-nemesis, the Bush administration.

As you would expect, the French press just lapped this all up. Surprisingly, though, the vehemence of the French fourth estate’s reaction seemed to vary inversely with the degree of the paper-in-question’s known partisan slant.


Consider one extreme of the French press’ partisan spectrum: L’Humanité, the organ of the French Communist Party. Naturally, the writers there were delighted with Moore’s victory, with that paper’s lead coverage, by Jean Roy, entitled Fahrenheit 9/11 or Michael Moore’s Triumph over Bush. But I found M. Roy’s glee somewhat restrained. He does point out that that White House communiquée, in response to what ultimately was just a movie-award, was unprecedented. But “Fahrenheit 9/11,” in Roy’s view, was hardly any overwhelming favorite, pre-destined to win the top award at the Festival’s end. There was no such favorite. The fact that the film did ultimately win must also be considered as a testament to the work’s innate qualities: “Let us repeat it loudly and strongly, Fahrenheit 9/11 is a true cinema-goer’s film, a work that magnificently re-discovers the principles of Eisenstein in the direction [and] the clash of heterogeneous elements destined to produce a Truth that exceeds the simple sum of its elements.” It’s not all about politics here, then.

In another L’Humanité article which serves as a glimpse back across the Atlantic, namely a press-review of the American reaction (Moore’s “Missile” Viewed by the Americans), the paper’s New York correspondent, Natasha Saulnier, is similarly restrained. She notes an alleged tendency on the part of the American media to be less-than-enthusiastic about Moore’s work, even to carp at it – could it be that they are afraid of seeming “unpatriotic” to the Bush administration in the increasingly-polarized American political atmosphere? In any event, she sighs, we now must await the inevitable accusations of anti-Americanism targeted at the French that this incident will engender. And the controversy will hardly stop there, she reminds us; “Moore has promised us other documentaries, on other burning subjects, notably on the Israeli-Palestinian question and the oil industry.”


We have to get to Le Monde, which is supposed to be a bit more dignified, to be France’s “paper of record,” for the commentary to get truly nasty. Take the piece by Dominique Dhombres: Michael Moore is a Clown Who Tells the Truth. Dhombres brings up explicitly the fact – which should be obvious by now – that Moore “detests” Bush-the-younger, “of a quasi-delinquent family, and almost illiterate, whom his family and his environment catapulted into the White House.” In contrast to this silver-spoon existence, Moore represents America’s working class. Born in Flint, Michigan, he would have normally grown up to work on the GM assembly lines, if it weren’t for the facts that 1) He escaped to film-making, and 2) The GM plants in Flint disappeared long ago. He certainly looks like a representative of America’s working class, what with his extra-large bermuda-shorts and his baseball cap. And he’s convinced that Bush junior should never have been allowed to enter the White House after the disputed 2000 election – and that, if re-elected, he will reinstate the draft “to pursue his imbecilic war in Iraq.”

Even worse is Eric Fottorino’s companion article in Le Monde (Fahrenheit Bush). Here’s where we encounter mention of the President’s unfortunate experience out on the biking-trail: Fottorino follows the predictable chain-of-logic that I’ve already seen on too many newsgroup postings, to the effect that Bush has choked on a pretzel, tumbled off of a trottinette à moteur (that’s French for Segway, folks), and now this. “What a bunch of screw-ups [maladresses]!” Fottorino exclaims. Could you imagine Bush armed with a weapon? “Even with a movie-studio-issue Colt, he would be capable of shooting himself in the foot.”

Then on to the literary allusions required of any French prose with true ambition: The title “Fahrenheit 911” is of course derived from “Fahrenheit 451,” the temperature at which paper burns and the name of a renowned science-fiction work by Ray Bradbury, made into a movie by no less than François Truffaut. In that movie, the hero jumps into the fire of burning books to save a few, for the sake of humanity’s sense of beauty and values. Riffing from this, Fottorino asks, “In his role as illiterate beast, what book could ‘W’ save, he for whom every word is a weapon for lying?”


Whew. Let’s move on to reaction to the prize for “Fahrenheit 911” from Libération, which even made the event its cover story: Missile de Croisette! (or “Missile from the Croisette,” the location of the film festival). In his editorial entitled Kill Bush 2, editor Jean-Michel Thenard maintains that “the resident of the White House, whose affirmations are sometimes lies, has finally gotten the caricaturist that he deserves: of a redoubtable simplicity and great ferocity.” Moore fights against the propaganda of the powerful by refusing to encumber himself with subtlety – much in the way of José Bové, actually, Thenard writes, although this association with the assaulter of France-based McDonalds may be one that Moore would prefer not to have. In the end, though, perhaps Moore’s victory should not have been so much of a surprise, especially given the way these days, after September 11, reality is often more incredible than fiction and so the documentary film-making genre has truly been able to come into its own.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Comments are closed.