Title: U.N. Me
Director: Matthew Groff, Ami Horowitz
Screenwriter: Ami Horowitz, Matthew Groff
Cast: Ami Horowitz, David Bosco, Ken Cain, Roberta Cohen, Norm Coleman, Simon Deng
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 5/23/12
Opens: June 1, 2012
When I was in third grade, our teacher talked up the United Nations, which had recently been founded in 1945. In an auditorium program, we all sang “United Nations on the march/ With flags unfurled/ Together fight for victory/ a free new world.” And that was just the refrain to a song that made the UN seem like The Second Coming. Things did not turn out as idealistically as our naïve class was made to believe. In fact Matthew Groff and Ami Horowitz’s documentary “U.N. Me” comes close to encouraging right-wingers to carry picket signs “U.S. out of U.N.! U.N. out of U.S.!” The members of Congress who are interviewed by the filmmakers are virtually all Republicans, leading the viewer to imagine that Groff and Horowitz are not seeking truth so much as launching a doc favoring their own point of view.
There’s nothing wrong with that. After all there’s no reason a documentary has to be balanced. Michael Moore’s docs, which have taken aim at the U.S. health industry and the policies of General Motors among other causes are clearly on the left politically. In fact there’s little doubt that Ami Horowitz, who shows up for quite a bit of time in his new movie, has been influenced by Moore’s comic style, and that’s all to the good. Who wants to see some dull lecture with a narrator speaking in ponderous tones about the big building covering an entire swank block on New York’s East Side?
Horowitz and Groff quickly note that the U.N. has not been a complete waste of time, mentioning the programs in which the organization’s committees have fed the hungry and vaccinated the diseased. They ignore the stellar vote in 1950 that allowed U.N. forces to counteract the North Koreans who had invaded the land of their neighbors to the south. They do not mention the bravery of the body in voting for the creation of the State of Israel by Resolution 181 in 1947, with Greece standing out in the Hall of Shame as the only European country to vote nay.
Good actions like those aside, the movie, which stars Ami Horowitz himself asserting himself into places that ordinary folks like us would have to apply for admission, proceeds to trash the organization but mostly in a gleefully ironic style that would make Michael Moore proud (of the style, though not always necessarily the politics).
Case in point: Years after 9/11 the U.N. has not been able to define the word “terrorism.” Horowitz takes a Webster, wherein the author of the dictionary appears to know more than the 193 members, showing that a relatively simple question is beyond the ken of this austere body.
It’s one thing to be semantically challenged, and another to cause the problems you’re appointed to solve. When U.N. “peacekeepers” go to places that are on the brink of war like the Ivory Coast, they spend their time on the beach, which, maybe, they should be encouraged to do rather than to rape the women of the country, as some have done . When U.N. forces went to Darfur (recall Terry George’s movie “Hotel Rwanda”?) they were ordered not to use their weapons. The U.N. was unable to prevent the massacre of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis and moderate Hutus at the hand of the Hutus. When Horowitz had the chutzpah to interview the Sudanese ambassador to the UN, the subject of the interview denied the existence of mass murder, calling the deaths of Darfurians a result of drought. The interview itself, despite the tragedy being discussed, is strangely comic given the absurdity of the ambassador’s denials.
No less absurd are these: Iran’s president Ahmadinejad, who already denied the Holocaust as myth, also denies that there are gay people in his country. Yet we know that Iran has hanged people who were outed as homosexuals or, if the victims are “lucky,” they are merely forced to have a sex-change operation. Ahmadinejad is roundly cheered by his U.N. supporters. At the U.N.’s anti-racism conference in 2009—actually an anti-Israel move–Horowitz had the chutzpah to go to the podium and address the members, stating: “You people should be embarrassed and ashamed, you have squandered the opportunity the world has given you.”
Horowitz and Groff conclude that the folks who populate the hallowed halls of the U.N. are concerned only with their power and not with righting the wrongs of humankind. Yet the Obama administration—again according to the conservative filmmakers who would no doubt vote for Romney later this year–“has done little to clean up the mess.” The U.S. spent eight billion dollars on the U.N. in 2010. Maybe we did the right thing when we refused to join the League of Nations.
If you want to save the world, go to www.unmemovie.com. You’ll allegedly find out how to do this.
Rated PG-13. 90 minutes © 2012 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B+