Directed by Vitaly Mansky (2016)
I guess it's somewhat remarkable that North Korea continues to get the wool pulled over its eyes by provocateurs who enter the country on ostensibly "humanitarian" or "documentarian" purposes, in order to needle, belittle or shine a much-needed spotlight on this brutally unforgiving regime.
So it was with filmmaker Vitaly Mansky and his "UNDER THE SUN". He and his crew were given permission to document the life of one Pyongyang-based girl, Zin-mi, and her parents during the year in which she prepared to join the Korean Children's Union on the 'Day Of The Shining Star' (Kim Jong-Il's birthday). The crew had minders that followed them everywhere, of course - and Zin-mi and her family were obviously picked because she's not only cute as a button, but pliant and talented and a "fine representation" of the country's glory.
Mansky's triumph lies in his editing, which despite being totally scrutinized in post-production, is depressingly revealing is just what a bogus artifice this whole farce of a production was. Between takes, and even during them, much of the underlying tension and oppression is revealed. As the family receives instruction on how to be the ideal patriots for this film, Mansky's watchful camera capture many small details that range from overly excited citizens (doing so because a camera's and many soldiers' eyes are trained upon them), to North Koreans struggling to stay awake during an official event, to Zin-mi's heartbreaking tears at a particularly grueling on-camera dance lesson. Her final words in the film might be the most difficult to swallow of all, as she's asked to recite a poem - any poem - to cheer her up, and immediately spits out some horrific "Dear Leader" agitprop that's been beaten into her since birth.
Mansky also, in showing the ubiquitous statues, portraits and photos of Kim Il-Song, Kim Jong-Il and Kim Jong-Un that penetrate every cranny of the country, a sort of "Communist kitsch" that's preposterous for his viewers but ultimately quite belittling for North Korea's citizens. They are reminded at every turn that their lives are in subjugation to their leaders, who possess mystical powers of war-making and economic voodoo. The country is less devastated-looking than I'd imagined, but again, it's only what Mansky is allowed to show. The true devastation is going on in the mind, and in the what-might-have-beens for Zin-mi and her stunted peers.
Its languid pace is a bit to sit through at times, but "UNDER THE SUN" is ultimately a strong piece of filmmaking that Celluloid Couch thinks you'll wanna check out.