Film Review: “U.N. Me” — Everything the Left Doesn’t Want to Know About the UN (COMMENTARY MAGAZINE) Jonathan S. Tobin 06/07/12)
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Those who view his films as compendiums of distorted propaganda may
rightly despise Michael Moore, but there’s no denying that his work
re-popularized the documentary as an independent art form while
effectively promoting his views. Moore and others who followed in his
footsteps, such as Morgan Spurlock, whose “Super Size Me” lambasted
the fast food industry, created a popular template in which the
filmmaker’s personal narrative, interspersed with humor and
relentless attempts to expose and thereby belittle the objects of
their scorn, set the standard for the genre. But the question for
viewers of a newly released film that was created in the spirit
of “Roger and Me, ” “Bowling for Columbine” or “Super Size Me” is
whether there is an audience for this sort of work if the subject
matter is not one that liberals and leftists love to hate.
In “U.N. Me,” Ami Horowitz and Matthew Grof have done just that.
Horowitz, the on-screen personality and narrator, takes his audience
on an international tour intended to show that the United Nations is
a corrupt talking shop that has made a mockery of the ideals that it
was created to promote. As “U.N. Me” makes clear, the world body has
criminal peacekeepers who fail to protect the innocent, purposely-
blind nuclear inspectors, thieves in charge of food programs, and has
a Human Rights Council that is a forum for tyrants and murderers.
This may be familiar territory for readers of COMMENTARY, but if the
intended audience is the crowd who enjoys the politically skewed
humor of Moore and Spurlock’s movies, a great many eyes will be
opened. Judging their effort by the standard set by those two, “U.N.
Me” must be considered a resounding success. The film combines a low-
key sense of righteous indignation at the outrageous behavior it
uncovers with humor and paints its subjects as hypocrites and
scoundrels. Yet even as we laugh along with Horowitz’s disingenuous
attempts to get UN officials to tell the truth about what they are
doing, one can’t help but wonder if this is a story most lovers of
indie documentaries want to hear, because its point is to debunk an
institution deeply loved by liberals and President Obama.
To get past the prejudices of filmgoers predisposed to dismiss
criticism of the U.N., Horowitz concentrates his fire on the causes
that most appeal to liberal sensibilities, such as the genocide in
Darfur. That means the number one object of U.N. perfidy — the state
of Israel — is conspicuous by its absence in the film. Though so much
of what is wrong about the U.N. is illustrated by the widespread anti-
Semitism given a hearing in its halls and the double standard by
which the democratic State of Israel is subjected to most of the
resolutions adopted by the institution, the Jewish state is mentioned
only in passing throughout “U.N. Me.” Though this may disappoint some
viewers, it’s not a mistake. While it eliminates many of the most
egregious instances of U.N. misbehavior, the tactic also allows
Horowitz to make his point about its failures without miring his
narrative in the rhetorical battlefield of the Middle East conflict.
But even without a discussion of the U.N.’s unfair obsession with
Israel, there is more than enough scandalous material to fill several
hours, let alone the 90 minutes of “U.N. Me.”
In the Ivory Coast, Horowitz delves into the scandal of “peacekeepers
gone wild” where the “blue helmets” are not only pleasure-seeking
thieves who don’t protect the people of that war-torn nation but have
themselves committed massacres.
The direct failure of the U.N. to do anything to stop the genocide in
Rwanda though it had the forces on the spot and the intelligence to
do so is a heartbreaking story, and here, Horowitz goes easy on the
humor. But he makes up for that with his exploration of the U.N.’s
failures to deal with genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan during
which a Sudanese diplomat asserts that “climate change” is the reason
so many were massacred by his government, prompting Horowitz to
suggest that more Priuses is the answer to the problem.
The film also goes into great depth to describe the way ordinary
corruption is part of business as usual at the U.N.. The “oil for
food” scandal in which Saddam Hussein skimmed more than $10 billion
from the world body in exchange for millions in bribes to U.N.
officials is a central part of the story. At its core is the role of
former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, demonstrating that this
scheme was ordinary practice and not an exception.
And though the documentary doesn’t go into the bizarre way the United
Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) has helped perpetuate the plight
of the Palestinians (the U.N. has one agency for all other refugees
and one devoted to the Palestinians), it is shown as employing
terrorists in Gaza and allowing their ambulances to be used as
The film, which was first shown at film festivals in 2009 but only
gained a general release on June 1 of this year, suffers in one
respect from the delay. During the past three years, one of the U.N.
agencies that Horowitz spoofs has changed for the better. Though the
International Atomic Energy Agency was rightly seen as a body that
was determined to “see no evil” when inspecting Iran under its
previous leader, the Egyptian diplomat Mohamad El Baradei, his
successor Yukio Amano has altered its course. Whereas in the past,
the IAEA aided proliferation, these days, it is a thorn in the side
of the Iranians and its release of incriminating evidence about their
work on military applications of nuclear power have prodded the West
to step up sanctions.
It may be that what Amano did with the IAEA shows the failure of
the “new” U.N. Human Rights Council and other agencies need not have
happened. With the right sort of leadership and an application of the
principles of the original U.N. Charter, it is theoretically possible
that all of the abuses and scandals Horowitz discusses in “U.N. Me”
can be corrected. Yet given the deep-seated nature of the problems
that are put on display here it could be that the reform of the IAEA
is the exception that proves the rule. An institution where
accountability is almost always absent, where Third World politics
dictates that horrible crimes must be excused if not rationalized or
sanitized may be beyond redemption. As journalist Claudia Rosett
notes in the film, “avoiding the truth is in the DNA of this
In one of the concluding scenes, Horowitz escalates his reportorial
hijinks. Not content with interviews with Iranians, Syrians and
Sudanese who expose their contempt for human rights, the narrator
jumps up on the stage of the U.N. hall in Geneva and attempts to
address the delegates about their hypocrisy. While this can be
dismissed as nothing more than a silly stunt, the fact that Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad, the Holocaust-denying president of Iran had opened the
conference on human rights that Horowitz crashed makes it all too
clear that the line between satire and truth has long since been
erased at the U.N.
Horowitz and Groff have produced a documentary that may at times be a
little too jocose for its serious subject matter, but is nevertheless
always watchable and infused with genuine wit. It remains to be seen
whether their praiseworthy effort to tell this important story will
get the exposure it deserves, but anyone who takes the time to
watch “U.N. Me” cannot help but walk away sharing the filmmaker’s
frustration and disgust with the U.N.
“U.N. Me” is available in select theaters around the country as well
as via on demand cable services and iTunes.
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