He bashed Bush before it was a pastime. Now he hits health care with ''Sicko.'' Love him or hate him, there's only one Michael Moore

May 25, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT

The last time Michael Moore stood on a stage at Cannes, he held the Palme d’Or in one hand and the scalp of a president in the other.

But something funny happened when he pulled into town this year. As the 53-year-old director’s new movie, Sicko, rolled at a gala black-tie screening inside the Palais, a band plugging its own film started setting up equipment for an impromptu set on the red carpet outside. The Flint, Mich., filmmaker received a prolonged standing ovation, but by the time he made it to the sparsely attended post-screening party in his honor, U2 had done what was long thought to be impossible. They had stolen the spotlight from Michael Moore.

Yes, the ritualistic explosion that accompanies the arrival of a Moore documentary will be more subdued this time around. His latest — a scathing look at what’s wrong with our health-care system — isn’t as incendiary as it is heartbreaking. (Click here for Lisa Schwarzbaum’s first impression of the film from Cannes.) Moore follows an old couple forced to move into their children’s basement after medical bills leave them destitute. A woman who sneaks into Canada because treatment for her cervical cancer isn’t covered by her HMO. A carpenter who had a band-saw accident and was given the choice of reattaching a middle finger for 60 grand or a ring finger for $12,000. Moore jets off to Canada, Cuba, France, and England to (more or less) soberly examine nationalized health care. There are jokes, but they’re rare — and the big man himself shows up only occasionally, mainly staying behind the camera, narrating in his impish mumble. It’s as if all the criticism of Moore — too much hectoring, too much rage, too much of him — seeped in after Fahrenheit 9/11 and left the filmmaker, well, different. So what happens when Michael Moore calms down and grows up? Exhausted and slightly disheveled from nighttime revelry that stretched until 6 a.m. — even grown-ups need to unwind — one of the more fascinating creatures in our popular culture sat down to chat amid the chaos of the 2007 Cannes film festival.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Well, I really hope you enjoyed having health insurance, because you’re never getting it again.
MICHAEL MOORE: [Laughs] I’m one of the 9 percent of Americans who are not private employees who still belong to a union. In fact, I belong to three unions — the writers, actors, and screenwriters guilds — and each of them have their own health plan. I’m triply covered!

Fahrenheit 9/11 was one of the most discussed movies in history. It’s the highest-grossing documentary of all time. But in retrospect, it seems unclear how much of a difference the movie actually made.
I think that in hindsight, it was the beginning of the end for Bush. The end was not going to come a few months later, in the election.

But that was clearly the goal.
Well, sure. But somebody had to get that ball rolling and I was happy to do that. I think Fahrenheit will be judged in the long run as a turning point. Rob Reiner said to me, ”This is gonna be one of these moments in American history where a work of art actually impacted things politically.” He cited Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which occurred in the 1850s. But the Civil War wasn’t won until years later. And it would be another 100 years before we had a civil rights act.

NEXT PAGE: ”Look, I start with the stories of all these Americans who had to suffer for no good reason and I felt it would be much stronger to not have me in the way.”

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