Michael Moore is handing out fake bandages to promote his new film Sicko, an exposé of the failings of the U.S. health care system.

But he may feel like applying a couple to himself after the mauling he received yesterday from several Canadian journalists - present company included - following the film's first viewing at the Cannes Film Festival.

"You Canadians! You used to be so funny!" an exasperated Moore said at a press conference in the Palais des Festivals.

"You gave us all our best comedians. When did you turn so dark?"

We Canucks were taking issue with the large liberties Sicko takes with the facts, with its lavish praise for Canada's government-funded medicare system compared with America's for-profit alternative.

While justifiably demonstrating the evils of an American system where dollars are the major determinant of the quality of medicare care a person receives, and where restoring a severed finger could cost an American $60,000 compared to nothing at all for a Canadian, Sicko makes it seem as if Canada's socialized medicine is flawless and that Canadians are satisfied with the status quo.

Moore makes the eyebrow-raising assertion that Canadians live on average three years longer than Americans because of their superior health care system.

I suggested to Moore that Sicko makes Canada's health system look so great, it wouldn't be surprising if Prime Minister Stephen Harper - of whom Moore is no fan - handed out DVD copies of it as campaign material in a future election.

Other Canadian journalists spoke of the long wait times Canadians face for health care, much longer than the few minutes Moore suggests in Sicko. Moore, who has come under considerable fire for factual inaccuracies in his films, parried back with more questionable claims.

"You're in a longer line than we're in because you get to live three years longer than we do. Why is that?" Moore said. "Why is it that a baby born in Toronto has a better chance of making it to its first birthday than a baby born in Detroit?"

Moore later back-pedalled on some of his praise, saying neither Harper nor regular Canadians should pat themselves on the back too much.

"It's not hard to do better than the U.S.," Moore cautioned. "The Canadian system, if you look on that list of the World Health Organization, is not that far above us. It's not like the French system. The French system is the best in the world."

Sicko doles out fulsome praise for the health care systems of France, Britain and Cuba, the latter featured in a highly controversial part of the film that has landed Moore in trouble with U.S. authorities.

He took several 9/11 emergency responders, all suffering chronic ailments they blame on their heroic tasks, to Cuba by boat to receive high quality and nearly-free treatments they claim they couldn't obtain in the U.S. Fidel Castro's government was only too happy to oblige.

First stop on the Cuban excursion, which is being investigated by the U.S. Treasury Department as a possible breach of American law, was to Guantanamo Bay, where suspected members of Al Qaeda and other terrorists receive superior medical care while under U.S. incarceration.

It looks like a classic Moore stunt, but he sounded genuinely chastened yesterday when he said that it could involve heavy fines or even a jail term for him, should the government choose to get nasty about it.

Sicko, to be released in North America on June 29, is by turns enlightening and manipulative, humorous and maudlin. It makes many valid and urgent points about the crisis of U.S. health care, but they are blunted by Moore's habit of playing fast and loose with the facts. Whether it's a case of the end justifying the means will ultimately be for individual viewers to decide.

It's a somewhat different film for Moore - although it looks a lot like Bowling for Columbine, his anti-gun screed he brought to acclaim here five years ago, which suggested that Canadians are so safe from gun nuts, they don't even bother to lock their front doors. But the movie is missing the familiar scenes of Moore hectoring politicians and business leaders, and he said that's no accident.

"I became very tired of all the yelling and screaming and not getting anywhere," Moore said.

He's also looking for a little bit of love - a big hug, perhaps? - for all the work he's doing in his films exposing corporate chicanery, gun mania, terrorism hysteria and now health care failings.

"I would hope by now, especially as I begin to enter the discourse on this new film, that I could catch a break," Moore pleaded.

Moore is a popular figure in Cannes. He was last here to present Fahrenheit 9/11 in 2004, which won that year's Palme d'Or.

Sicko is screening out of competition because Moore said he doesn't need another Palme d'Or.

Is this the dawn of a kinder, gentler Michael Moore? Don't bet on it.