CANNES, France - "Sicko," Michael Moore's attack on the U.S. health care system, got a warm welcome at Cannes Saturday that marked the director's triumphant return to the film festival and a respite from the controversy his work has started at home.
More than 2,000 people applauded loudly after the film's first Cannes screening at the packed Grand Theatre Lumiere, the main festival auditorium.
"I know the storm awaits me back in the United States," said Moore as he absorbed the enthusiastic response of critics and journalists.
The movie doesn't open until late June, but it has already been criticized by conservative politicians in the United States over scenes in which the filmmaker takes ailing 9/11 rescuers to Cuba for treatment.
"It's very much in the Michael Moore vein - hilarious, but I was crying through about a third of it," said Peter Brunette of the Boston Globe.
The trip to Cuba led the Treasury Department to investigate Moore for possibly breaking the U.S. trade and travel embargo on the communist country. He could face a fine or jail time.
Some have said the investigation is giving the film free publicity. Not Moore.
"I'm the one who's personally being investigated, and I'm the one who's personally liable for potential fines or jail, so I don't take it as lightly," he said.
On the advice of lawyers, the filmmakers spirited a master copy of "Sicko" outside the United States in case the government tries to seize it. Asked whether the inquiry could prevent the film opening in the U.S. as planned on June 29, Moore said: "We haven't even discussed that possibility."
Moore is a Cannes favorite. His last film, the war-on-terror documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11" won the festival's top prize, the Palme d'Or, in 2004. "Sicko" is screening out of competition - Moore joked that he didn't want to appear like a "typical American" by greedily seeking another trophy.
Stephen Schaefer of the Boston Herald thought the film might do even better at the box office than the President Bush-bashing "Fahrenheit 9/11," which took $122 million in the United States.
"This could do even more," he said. "This is an issue that impacts more people. It's a huge issue."
In an online review, trade magazine Variety called it an "affecting and entertaining" film that "alternates between comedy, poignancy and outrage."
Moore said "Sicko" was actually meant to be a quieter and more reflective movie than the rabble-rousing "Bowling For Columbine" or "Fahrenheit 9/11."
There are no scenes of confrontation to match Moore's buttonholing of politicians in "Fahrenheit 9/11" to ask whether they would send their children to Iraq.
Instead, there are ordinary Americans telling heart-wrenching stories of being refused vital treatment. Moore also travels to Canada, Britain and France to take a look - possibly rose-tinted - at their systems of socialized medicine.
"I decided to make a different film this time," Moore said. "I wanted a different tone and I wanted to say things in a different way.
Moore said he hoped audiences would focus on the film's message, not the controversy.
"Why would we allow nearly 50 million Americans to go without any kind of health coverage," he said. "That's not America."