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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
The script of this film was assigned to us by the North Korean SOE. They also kindly provided us with an around the clock escort service, chose our filming locations and looked over all the footage we shot to make sure that we did not make any mistakes in showing the life of a perfectly ordinary family in the best country in the world, with a daughter preparing to join the Children's Union - her first step on the way to becoming a part of the system dreamed by the Great Kim Il-Sung. See more »
The European and Russian filmmakers were invited by the North Korean government to make a documentary that glorified their country, but the filmmakers managed to subvert the intent of the film by keeping the cameras running while the government handlers were giving instructions to the participants. Other reviewers have discussed the ways in which the government handlers coached the participants and created fake backgrounds for the family.
But it is the unstaged scenes that really give an indication of the totalitarian nature of the country. I have ridden subways in New York, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, London, Stockholm, Tokyo, and Seoul, and I have never seen, nor could I have imagined, a scene like the one after Zin-mi's initiation into the Children's Union. (That's a surreal event in itself, especially the unison applause that all stops at the same time.) That is, literally hundreds of parents and children are at the subway station, returning from what is supposed to be a momentous occasion, and none of the parents or children say a word. They wait silently for the train, and they ride it silently, looking rather depressed.
Or take the arrival at work. Everyone silently stands in line, and they are expected to bow to a billboard of the Kim family before turning at a right angle and entering the building. After dancers in colorful costumes rehearse outside, they silently board buses. Nobody seems to talk in public or show anything but a blank facial expression. Even in more intimate scenes, even among the children, people seem to be looking for cues as to what is permitted or appropriate.
This is not "Communism." I was in China in 1990 and in Cuba in 2011, and in both countries, people talk and show emotions in public.
It is telling that the North Koreans saw all the footage (except what the filmmakers held back) and still approved it. Are they so into their own mindset that they don't know that foreigners would be creeped out by a society in which people act like robots in public?
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