Finding humor in a nightmare
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, June 1, 2012
It’s hard to know whether to laugh or be outraged by “U.N. Me,” a documentary about the United Nations that borrows liberally from the Michael Moore playbook. Both reactions are intentional, according to filmmaker Ami Horowitz, who told a preview audience that he was inspired to make the movie after watching Moore’s 2002 “Bowling for Columbine.”
An investment banker who had never made a movie, Horowitz came to the conclusion that he could more easily get people fired up about his pet project -- the dysfunction of the modern U.N. -- through humor than through traditional documentary dispassion.
It’s an effective technique, as Moore, Morgan Spurlock and others have shown.
In “U.N. Me” -- whose title is a shameless riff on Moore’s 1989 “Roger and Me” -- Horowitz is the comedic on-camera presence to his behind-the-scenes collaborator, Matthew Groff.
Horowitz’s wry voice-over narration and interviews veer from the serious to the silly. In one scene, after an interview about human rights abuse of homosexuals, he asks a spokesman for the Iranian government if his pink button-down makes him look “gay.” In a similarly facetious way, Horowitz skewers the U.N. for hypocrisy, cowardice, ineffectiveness, entrenched cronyism, institutionalized rape, violence and a general lack of credibility.
He scores some good points, if at times his tone seems slightly inappropriate to the gravity of the subject. Horowitz compiles a laundry list of horrors: U.N. inaction during the Rwandan genocide; evidence of Eastern European peacekeepers engaging in sex trafficking; failures of nuclear inspections; inability to do anything about terrorism, let alone settle on a definition of the word.
If it weren’t so shocking, it would be a lot funnier.
That it’s funny at all is a tribute to Horowitz, who makes an affable and glib tour guide through this nightmare world -- a world in which Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can be invited to deliver the keynote speech at a U.N.-sponsored anti-racism conference.
Strange but true.
According to Horowitz, the film’s goal is twofold. On the one hand, he says, he’d love it if the film aroused enough public outcry to force the organization to function as its charter originally designed it. Countries such as Iran can and should be kicked out, not coddled, he says. Alternatively, Horowitz would like to see the nations of the world come together to form a real alternative to the U.N. -- a second alliance that would increasingly marginalize the 67-year-old organization until it withered and died. He harbors no hope that it can be killed outright.
He’s probably right, but his barbs draw blood.
Contains some violent imagery, brief crude language and thematic material relating to genocide and sexual abuse.