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Where To Invade Next

Son Of Saul

February 18, 2016

Where to Invade Next (***) R

Michael Moore, the most divisive documentary filmmaker of our times, has returned to his old subject matter with Where to Invade Next, his first film since his 2009 entry Capitalism: A Love Story. Quality wise, I would say it’s about on a par with his last effort from nearly seven years ago. That’s to say that it’s amusing and eternally hopeful but sometimes maddening. The film also, at the very least and like most of Moore’s other films on his resume, forces one to think and to question how things are done in the supposed land of the free in which we live. Any film that dares to engage the viewer in this manner can’t be without some merit.

The premise of the film is fairly simple. In a pre credits sequence Moore posits that since the US hasn’t won a war since WWII, perhaps it’s not a bad idea to go overseas and take some of the positive ideas that other countries have adopted and bring them back to America. Later in the film, the filmmaker notes that most of the ideas that are making other countries so successful were initially implemented by our own government but have since been tossed aside in the interests of big business and greed. It’s a Michael Moore film and you know he has an agenda but anyone with sense enough to tie their own shoelaces would be hard pressed to disagree with some of the ideas that other countries are putting to good use.

The first place on Moore’s agenda is Italy, where he illuminates just how much business owners respect their employees, a situation that is, more often than not, quite the opposite in our little corner of the world.

Michael Moore

Other places that the filmmaker chooses to visit are France, where school lunch menus are quite markedly different than school cafeteria food found in most schools in the states, and, Norway, where the prison system bears no resemblance to prisons commonly found on our soil.

As I said, it’s a Michael Moore film and as such, it’s going to slanted to fit his agenda so viewers should be warned. Also, those who really detest the filmmaker’s penchant for putting himself in his own films are most assuredly going to be annoyed here as he seems to have more screen time than in any of his most recent films.  Still, having said all of that, the film does feature Moore’s trademark humor and does leave us with a hopeful feeling that, perhaps, things can be better than that to which we’ve become accustomed. That, my friends, is a message the likes of which all of us could use more.
Son of Saul (** ½) R
One of this year’s Oscar contenders for Best Foreign Film, Son of Saul, certainly goes the distance in its depiction of the horrors of Nazi Germany, circa World War II. By narrowing its focus to the point of view of its main protagonist, the film offers a unique perspective on a subject that’s been covered amply more than a few times over the decades. Its depiction of the atrocities committed by the Germans during the Second World War are some of the most disturbing in the canon of films that have attempted to dramatize these events over the course of cinema history. For that reason alone the film must be commended.

The aforementioned protagonist of the film is the title character, Saul, whose job it is to clean up the death scenes in which a good portion of the Jews have lost their lives.

Geza Rohrig and Marton Agh in Son of Saul

As the film begins, Saul is cleaning up the residue from a gas oven that has recently been used for just such a horrific purpose. It’s there that Saul first comes to notice the body of a boy, still breathing but barely alive. Saul then witnesses one of the German soldiers suffocating the boy, an act that seems to stir up something deep inside the man. The rest of the film mainly focuses on Saul’s attempts to give the boy a proper burial, an act that necessitates Saul finding a Rabbi to assist him in his task. Much of the film’s narrative from this point forward involves Saul’s attempts to find said Rabbi and bury the boy, while being careful not to put his or his coworker’s lives in danger.

While the strength of Son of Saul may lie in the recreation of the time and place in which its events occur, the film’s weaknesses rest solely on debuting writer-director Laszlo Nemes’ decision to not flesh out any of the film’s characters. There isn’t one character in the film that we really get to know on any level beyond his or her immediate actions.

Of course it could be argued that when it comes to attempting to survive an event such as the holocaust, immediate actions are all that count. That would be a valid point and one, that’s quite frankly, hard to argue. Still, the experience of spending the film’s running time with a character that I have no emotional investment in is a hard pill for me to swallow. Couple that with the film’s most unsatisfying ending and what I was left with is a film brimming with great detail but nothing, in regards to story, for which to recommend it.

Both of these movies are playing in Charlotte.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at filmfan1970@hotmail.com.



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