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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Fahrenheit 11/9 documentary review: America is burning (#LFF2018)

Fahrenheit 11/9 green light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

In his latest righteous broadside, Michael Moore takes on Donald Trump as but a symptom of the political rot in the United States. Upsetting, enraging, exhausting… which is just as it should be.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): love Michael Moore, hate Donald Trump, despair at the state of America
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
male director, male screenwriter, male protagonist
(learn more about this)

It’s difficult to believe that it’s been only two years since Donald Trump was elected President of the United States. (It’s difficult to believe that that is a factual sentence that exists in the English language.) The title of Michael Moore’s latest righteous broadside, Fahrenheit 11/9, refers to the day after the 2016 presidential election, the morning on which the world woke up, learned the election result (which was not clear until the wee hours), and cried — to quote Moore — “How the fuck did this happen?”

It’s difficult to believe that it’s been only two years since Donald Trump was elected President. (It’s difficult to believe that that is a factual sentence.)

Moore’s look back at election night feels like a punch in the stomach, but that’s hardly Moore’s fault: the depths to which America has descended should make us sick. But Moore (Michael Moore in TrumpLand, Where to Invade Next) is only just getting started: as he lays out in his usual rowdy terms how Trump is but a symptom of the political rot in America, the beginning of the endgame of the decades-long neoliberal takeover of the country, the filmmaker is very adept at engaging our rage. (Moore shows us how the appalling nonsense of 2016 election was not limited to Republicans, or entirely attributable to Russia, either, and he doles out hearty fuck-yous to Obama and Clinton, too. Nothing here is partisan. It is simply sanity and reality.) Getting us angry is not a difficult task, but as Moore carefully assembles plenty of crap that anyone paying attention is already all too familiar with — like the disaster capitalism of the wholly artificial water crisis in Flint, Michigan, Moore’s hometown — he also digs up crap that we haven’t seen before to illustrate just how entrenched the rot is: his behind-the-scenes experience of an appearance with Trump on a 1998 episode of Roseanne Barr’s TV talk show demonstrates how opposition gets stifled in mainstream discourse and how the media soft-pedals monsters such as Trump and renders them as reasonable.

Moore hoses down the Michigan governor’s mansion with Flint’s poisoned municipal water. Now that’s a protest.

Moore hoses down the Michigan governor’s mansion with Flint’s poisoned municipal water. Now that’s a protest.

If you’re not already drained by the past two years, 11/9 will only add to your upset and exhaustion. Still, there is a little bit of hope to be found here… but only if we heed to the call to (metaphorical) arms that Moore raises. He trumpets the work of the teen survivors of the Parkland school shooting, and the aggressive anti-gun protests they’ve led. He reminds us of the general strike that teachers in West Virginia engaged in over the appalling meanness of their pay, and how that action spread to other states. Dissent is happening across America, and change is being pushed for. But is it enough? Is it too late already?

Perhaps Moore’s biggest coup here is getting on camera the last surviving Nuremberg prosecutor — 99-year-old Ben Ferencz — to tell us how he’s scared as hell at what’s going on in the US. Ferencz’s horror is horrifying. But so is the evidence of our own eyes: Every day since I saw this film a couple of weeks ago brings more actions and more words on Trump’s part that make it extremely hard to see that he isn’t deliberately engineering a slide into despotism, and that it isn’t accelerating. I wish I saw an end to it in sight.

viewed during the 62nd BFI London Film Festival

Click here for my ranking of this and 2018’s other theatrical releases.

green light 4 stars

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Fahrenheit 11/9 (2018) | directed by Michael Moore
US/Can release: Sep 21 2018
UK/Ire release: Oct 19 2018

MPAA: rated R for language and some disturbing material/images
BBFC: rated 15 (strong language, disturbing images, racist behaviour)

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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