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French flock to ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’

The film won the Palm d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival
/ Source: The Associated Press

France’s passion for cinema and its collective antipathy for President Bush made Wednesday’s opening of “Fahrenheit 9/11” a headline event that quickly proved a boon at the box office. But even Michael Moore could not escape that critical Gallic eye.

The movie that won the highest award at May’s Cannes Film Festival wracked up “extraordinary” ticket sales for its first afternoon showings in Paris, according to the MK2 movie chain.

Elevating the movie to an event, the left-leaning newspaper Liberation left the laudatory commentary to its nationally known executive editor. “Michael Moore is a television show unto himself,” Serge July wrote, praising the director as the “American Falstaff of documentaries.”

The cover of the Communist daily L’Humanite’s portrayed Moore dressed up like the Statue of Liberty, wearing a smile and a baseball cap.

Figures compiled by Mars Distribution, the movie’s French distributor, showed 4,372 people attending the first afternoon show at movie theaters around Paris — versus 10 to 1,110 for other movies in town.

The figures are no surprise, considering the French government spearheaded the opposition to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and polls have shown that the French roundly disapprove of Bush.

The movie already had proved to be a record-breaking documentary in the United States, where it’s grossed $61.1 million since debuting June 23.

“I think this movie is a very good thing,” said Clement Ipoulet, 25, after coming out of a movie theater on the Champs-Elysees, where the audience applauded at the end of the film. “Even if a majority of the French thought this, I think that now they have a confirmation.”

But the French rarely resist criticizing winners — not to mention anything made in America — and not everyone had accolades for “Fahrenheit 9/11.”

The daily newspaper Le Monde wrote: “To affirm...that it was crowned (in Cannes) for its cinemagraphic qualities is either proof of incompetence, a pure lie or a cynical joke.”

Le Monde said the film more closely resembles propaganda, and it carried a separate article to separate “truths” from “errors” in the film.

Moore, in an interview with Liberation, said the movie “presents my own version of the facts.”

Even less kind was France’s superstar philosopher, Bernard-Henri Levy, who dismissed “Fahrenheit 9/11” as dishonest.

“When Michael Moore describes Iraq, before the American intervention, as a sort of oasis of peace and happiness, where people flew kites...there wasn’t only that,” Levy said on RTL radio.

Levy noted that he opposed the war and considers Bush a “catastrophe for America.” But, he added: “Saddam Hussein was also a horrible dictator. And that is not in the film of Michael Moore.”

For 20-year-old student Adrien Bloch, it was much simpler.

“It’s very important, this movie,” he said. “We don’t like Bush and this movie is anti-Bush...It reflects our thinking.”