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Vive la France’s universal health care: Moore in Sicko.

Prognosis Negative

By Ann Morrow

Sicko

Directed by Michael Moore

The man who brought you Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11 now presents Killing for Kaiser Permanente. That’s an exaggeration, but not by much. In Michael Moore’s new polemic, Sicko, he explores the American way of death in the health-care industry, and his basic argument is chilling: Insurance companies and the politicians who collude with them are letting people die to reduce payouts, and thus increase their profitability. One HMO refers to payments for care as “medical losses.” The most appalling revelation is that it’s doctors, and not just paper-pushers, who are financially rewarded for turning down patients for life-saving procedures. Moore interviews a former claims adjuster who specialized in finding bureaucratic loopholes (such as the possibility of a preexisting condition) for turning down claims. He breezily refers to the man as a “hitman,” but after exposing a few horror stories (out of hundreds of filmed hours’ worth), it’s obvious that the title is justified.

And these are the people who have health insurance. Moore begins with some examples of the almost 50 million Americans who don’t, including a man who sliced off two fingertips with a circular saw and then had to choose which fingertip he wanted to have reattached, because he couldn’t afford both. The interviews get more serious from there on. Much of the film compares the advantages of socialized medicine in other countries, including Canada (where the wait to see a doctor seems to be about the same as in the States), England, and France. Though it’s noticeable that Moore is presenting a one-sided argument for universal health coverage, his lack of objectivity serves the argument well in terms of getting across his point: that there is no excuse for one of the wealthiest nations on Earth to be ranked 37 in terms of the health of its citizens.

The prognosis is dire. The American health-care system is so corrupt and inefficient at so many levels—even the indomitable Hillary has been coerced into compliance—that solutions almost stymie the imagination. Even so, Sicko keeps its sense of humor, with Moore’s gentle indignation and sham naiveté making him as entertaining a tour guide as ever. Yes, the presence of his film crew (briefly revealed) obviously influences the outcome of much of his on-the-spot reporting, especially in the now-infamous concluding sequence, wherein Moore interviews three 9/11 rescue workers who have been suffering without relief from ailments contracted at the site, and then charters a pleasure boat to take them to Cuba for free treatment, a sequence that (successfully) unfolds like a comedy skit, and concludes with a (contrived) emotional happy ending. Yet the issues that Sicko exposes, and the information it dispenses, are invaluable, and his heavy hand in wielding the truth may be just what’s needed to help cure a pandemic of health-care complacency whose cost is measured—on camera—in human lives.

Rat in the Kitchen

Ratatouille

Directed by Brad Bird

There’s a scene in Ratatouille featuring a monologue by a repentant restaurant critic, who, in essence, disavows the very practice of criticism. In it, he contends that, generally speaking, the worst piece of junk contributes more to the world than the criticism proclaiming it so. The fact that the critic, Anton Ego, is voiced by the magnificent Peter O’Toole gives the speech weight bordering on Voice of God authority.

The contrarian in me wants to proclaim Ratatouille junk just on principle. But it’s not junk; and, besides, Ratatouille is a Pixar production, so nobody would believe me, anyway.

It is, however, a departure from the previous Pixar films. Ratatouille will still delight and impress fans of digital animation; and even those filmgoers not instantly agog at the technical stuff should be impressed at Brad Bird’s fast-paced direction. The combination of quick camerawork, dramatic score and colorful Parisian setting give the film an appeal that may owe some debt to the films of Jeunet and Caro. I imagine I won’t be the only audience member who is reminded of Delicatessen.

Which is a pretty weird influence for what is nominally a kids’ movie, n’est-ce pas?

Ratatouille is, of course, nowhere so dark as that film. The movie tells the story of Remy (very well-voiced by the comedian Patton Oswalt), a rat who renounces his species’ scavenging ways in hopes of becoming a great chef: He doesn’t want to take, he wants to make (if you are noticing some implication of similarity between rat and critic here, keep it to yourself). After an initial adventure separating him from his family and landing him in a struggling Parisian restaurant, Remy teams up with a bumbling human, Alfredo Linguini, to become a celebrated—if clandestine—culinary phenomenon.

What’s unusual about this movie is the focus on the story of the human. Adjust for one oddly talented rat, and the plot of Ratatouille is straight romantic comedy. It’s interesting to note that though Remy speaks, he cannot be understood by any of the humans in the movie. (Compare Toy Story, where, usually, the toys chose not to communicate directly with the humans, though they could.) Essentially, Ratatouille is a twist on the Cyrano (or Roxanne) story; and it could easily have been accomplished without the rodent. How much appeal this will have for tykes is questionable. For the record, my own 5-year-old was ready to leave well before Alfredo and his love interest had their inevitable “you lied to me” crisis.

Ego claims in his monologue that the one time a critic really risks something, really contributes, is in his or her announcement of the new. Well, then, ladies and gentlemen: May I present the G-rated animated romantic comedy.

Was anyone waiting?

—John Rodat


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