Mr. Freedom (1970)
Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.
as Mister Freedom
as Dick Sensas
as Mr. Drugstore
as Capt. Formidable
as Dr. Freedom
as Moujik Man
as Freddie Fric
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As subtle as a double-time "Stars & Stripes Forever," "Mr. Freedom" is a broad political satire that uses ridiculous superheroes to symbolize clashing Cold War countries. Mr. Freedom (John Abbey, who presumably was cast for physical size rather than acting skills) is a red, white and blue-clad, sloganeering meathead who is sent overseas to defend France from invading Communists. France is dryly described as the "white man's burden," and the stereotype of the country being a wartime doormat is cruelly milked.
When Mr. Freedom arrives, he is given a raucous welcome by the crusader allies already on site. Like him, they dress in bizarre, patriotic outfits accessorized with what looks like leftover padding from linebackers, baseball catchers and motocross riders. Most important among them is Marie-Madeleine (Delphine Seyrig), the widow of the group's former figurehead Captain Formidable. She's game to wear a huge orange wig, but is deliciously alluring all the same (arguably, she is also the film's only solid performance). Another member of this tribe is "Mr. Drugstore," played by none other than legendary songwriter Serge Gainsbourg (who also wrote the score). He doesn't have many lines, but he delivers a radio spiel at one point (in English!) and is allowed to cut loose with some silly physical humor. Donald Pleasance adds a small role as Mr. Freedom's distant commander, but only appears in closeup via the monitor of his protĂ (C)gĂ (C)'s wrist communicator.
Mr. Freedom's chief adversaries include Super Frenchman, Moujik Man (standing for Russia) and Red China Man. Moujik Man (what is Philippe Noiret doing here?) wears an absurdly puffy, Michelin Man-style outfit, while Super Frenchman and Red China Man are both presented as life-size balloon figures (seriously). Red China Man -- a giant, snorting parade dragon rippling with gusts from whatever fan system is enclosed inside -- really can't be done justice with words.
Be forewarned: This is hardly a pro-America movie. Mr. Freedom is consistently portrayed as a dimwitted cheerleader who speaks in vacuous clichĂ (C)s -- he's like "The Tick" come to life. He's also casually sociopathic about killing anyone who poses the tiniest obstacle to him. Yet for awhile, Marie-Madeleine's young son is the only person who realizes what a bullying creep he is. Meanwhile, writer-director William Klein ("Who Are You, Polly Magoo?") takes numerous potshots at Madison Avenue and inserts all sorts of garishly packaged products into the background. In one crazy scene, Marie-Madeleine revives Mr. Freedom from a bloody, stigmata stupor by stuffing him with a revolting mound of cereal poured from a box marked Corn Flakes on one side and Rice Krispies on the other. Another scene takes place in a girlie-staffed supermarket that looks like Andy Warhol's worst pop-art nightmare.
"Mr. Freedom" is so uniquely insane that one feels guilty trashing it, but it's really not much more than a campy, '60s-era laugh. Still, the costumes alone make it a can't-miss spectacle.
And this almost made me hate William Klein.
I love when directors have a message with their art. I am completely for being political with your art and that movies should be more than mindless entertainment. Secondly, I also am a moderate. Paint me wishy-washy, but I just don't believe that the antithesis of evil is good. Few people are truly evil and very few situations are absolute. Finally, I believe that the best way to convince someone to change their minds is to let people get to that conclusion on their own. Subtelty and forcing people to examine their own lives through arts to come to their own decision is the most effective way to communicate your message. Mr. Freedom does none of that.
This is the most force-feeding movie I've ever seen. It is the longest hour-and-a-half sit-through of propaganda that I've ever seen. Hell, while I disagree with a good percentage of the movie, even the parts I did agree with turned me off. This is the problem that Al Franken and Michael Moore have. They don't understand that if you make too much of a jackass of yourself, you are just going to make your cause look bad. Mr. Freedom needs a huge dose of shut the hell up. I understand that the concept of "poet / prophet" needs the voice of an exile to tell the true nature of a nation's problems, but William Klein just comes off as extremely whiny and one-sided. I think that his message could have gotten across if he would treat his audience with some respect rather than presenting an oversimplistic view of a complicated situation. Really, he's treating his audience like their dumb and need this kind of information shoved down their throats.
The biggest problem with being this blatant about a situation is that you are only going to be to preaching to the choir. No one who disagrees with this kind of politics would actively sit down and watch this movie. At the time, everyone who agreed would pull a Farenheit 911 and raised this movie onto an unfair cinematic pedestal, hailing it as the battle cry of a subculture. The rest would have scolded the movie without seeing it and only caused a greater rift between two distant ideas. William Klein blindly walks into this movie without thinking of the ramificaitons of what he was making.
It is hard to review this movie form an aethetic point of view. He really is more concerned with his political propaganda that he avoids using really powerful imagery, instead using easy shots of the red-white-and-blue constantly. He only has one really inspired shot that wasn't meant to be "shocking" and that's what is used as the cover art on the Eclipse set.
The tie to Captain America isn't exactly subtle either. But the analogy is somewhat lost because Klein uses popular culture as an absolute. Captain America commonly questioned U.S. policy in the comic books, taking an active stance against Watergate and the Nixon administration. To have a character who is clearly Captain America murdering black people for his country is offensive and ill researched.
I really hated this movie. I'm not what you would call crazy conservative and the politics itself didn't bother me, but the approach is just terrible and actually made that one of the more painful hour and a halfs I've sat through. If you can avoid this one, do. You can only get it in the William Klein set, so good luck just leaving it on your shelf.
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