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Over the course of one year, this film follows the life of an ordinary Pyongyang family whose daughter was chosen to take part in one of the famous Korean "Spartakiads". The ritualized explosions of color and joy contrast sharply with pale everyday reality, which is not particularly terrible, but rather quite surreal, like a typical life as seen "through the looking glass".Written by
This European documentary about North Korea has a Czech title--V paprscích slunce--translated into English as Under the Sun (2015). (Google Translate says The Rays of the Sun, which I think works better.) It was written and directed by Vitaly Mansky, who is Ukrainian.
The film was made in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), which we call North Korea. Somehow, director Mansky got permission--or was asked--to film a "documentary" about a typical family in Pyongyang. The star is a young girl, Lee Zin-Mi.
What the filmmakers tell us in text on the screen is that the "documentary" they were making was totally artificial. Their North Korean handlers rehearsed every scene, and had no qualms about total fabrication of plot. (As just one example, Lee Zin-Mi's father is not an engineer. However, for the "documentary," he is an engineer who consults with workers at a clothing factory to help them increase their production.)
What the North Koreans didn't know--or didn't understand--was that director Mansky kept the camera rolling continually. We hear and see the North Koreans telling people what to say and do, and then we watch the scene when the people say it and do it. Sometimes we watch the scene twice, because the North Korean handlers don't like the way it turned out the first time. So, this really is a documentary, but it's a documentary about making a false documentary.
What stands out in every scene is that the whole city revolves around endless praise for the late Kim Jong-il, who was the supreme leader of the North Korea from 1994 to 2011. Now, along with praise of Kim Jong-Il, we hear continuous praise of Kim Jong-un, his son.
Kim Jong-un holds the titles of Chairman of the Workers' Party of Korea, Chairman of the Central Military Commission, Chairman of the National Defense Commission, Supreme Commander of the Korean People's Army, and presidium member of the Politburo of the Workers' Party of Korea. Kim was promoted to the rank of Marshal of North Korea in the Korean People's Army on 18 July 2012, consolidating his position as the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. (All this from Wikipedia.)
Poor Lee Zin-Mi has the same fate as all of her friends--a life where she participates in ceaseless devotion to Kim Jong-Il and Kim Jong-un. It's hard to tell whether she obtained any special rewards for starring in the documentary. Nothing is real, so nothing on screen can be trusted.
Actually, that's not true. Twice Zin-Mi breaks into tears. No one comforts her--they basically suggest that she stop crying so they can continue filming. The documentary may be false, but the tears are real.
We saw this movie at the excellent Little Theatre in Rochester, NY. On the small screen you'll miss some of the amazing pageantry that surrounds praise of Kim Jong-un. However, it will work well enough.
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