Of an Earl an Old Love and Roger
September 1992

Vincent Canby

Three superb short films by Mike Leigh of England, Denys Arcand of Canada and Michael Moore of the titled "Taking the Pulse," - which will be shown at the New York Film Festival today at 4 P.M. and midnight.

Because they probably won't be presented anywhere else in this same combination, you may want to cheek if there are any seats left for the program. The films don't have much in common, but seeing three such decisively idiosyncratic works together has a way of raising the spirits.

Mr. Moore's 23-minute contribution, "Pets or Meat: The Return to Flint", is a sort of "Roger and Me 2." An engagingly tatterdernalion sequel to his 1989 hit documentary in which he examined the sad state of Flint, Mich., after mass layoffs by General Motors, and some of the ways in which private citizens and public boosters were coping.

Since Mr. Moore last visited Flint with a camera crew, things have continued to change, meaning that they've gotten worse, even for Roger Smith, the G.M. chairman whom the film maker unsuccessfully tried to interview earlier. Mr. Moore says that Mr. Smith, after resigning from G.M., had his pension package reduced by $100,000.

From time to time throughout "Pets or Meat," the folksy film maker toys with the idea of sending the former executive a check to make up the difference. He could afford it: his profits from "Roger and Me" reportedly allowed him to set up a $250,000 foundation to help independent film makers and social action groups. According to the new film, Mr. Moore also paid two years' rent to each person shown being evicted in "Roger & Me" and Me." Now and then social satire pays off.

"Pets or Meat" takes its title from the sign outside the house of Rhonda Britton, the woman who was selling rabbits in "Roger and Me." She is now bankrupt but unbowed. She works at K-Mart and has expanded her in-home business by adding a line of rats and mice, sold as food for pet snakes. One not-great shot: a python engorging a rabbit the size of a small dog.

Other characters make return visits, including Fred Ross, the deputy seen evicting destitute tenants in the earlier film. Now Mr. Ross also works as a repo man, that is, as a repossessor of automobiles. Not all business in Flint is down. Employment is up at the unemployment office. Sales of home security systems and guns have risen because of the increase in crime

Wearing his G.M. cap squarely on his head, looking quizzical and never surprised, Mr. Moore wanders through this landscape like Tocqueville disguised as a late 20th-century Middle American hayseed. For those who can't get to Lincoln Center today, PBS television stations are scheduled to show both "Pets or Meat" and "Roger & Me" on Monday night.

Mr. Arcand's 25-minute "Seen From Elsewhere, is a segment from a new Canadian anthology feature titled "Montreal Vu Par..." Whatever the rest of the film is like, Mr. Arcand's contribution is delicious, an older woman's ecstatic, alarmingly frank recollection of a love affair she had many years ago in Montreal.

Attending a boring diplomatic reception in a Latin American capital, where each succeeding guest has a worse horror story to tell about the provincial manners and morals of French Canadians, the woman is prompted to recall Montreal as the scene of the great love affair of her life. Her surprised husband stands by as she delights the women around her with the explicit details of an escapade conducted during a World Health Organization conference, amid a very snowy weekend and exploding mailboxes, among other things.

The film, beautifully written by Paule Baillargeon, who also appears in a small role, recalls the wit and elan of Mr. Arcand's "Decline of Amercan Civilization" (1986).

Copyright 1992 The New York Times


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