A propaganda documentary about North Korea that reveals a few hidden facts because the director continues filming between the scripted scenes.A propaganda documentary about North Korea that reveals a few hidden facts because the director continues filming between the scripted scenes.A propaganda documentary about North Korea that reveals a few hidden facts because the director continues filming between the scripted scenes.
To the North Korean government, the premise of the documentary is to follow an ideal family as their 8-year-old daughter, Lee Zin-mi, prepares to join the Children's Union (run by the Workers' Party) on the Day of the Shining Star (that's a fancy term for the North's "founder", Kim Jong-il's birthday). It's a great idea for a propaganda film! Anything that spews respect and admiration for the Great Leader will go over well in North Korea. Not to mention the reassurance and comfort the citizens will feel knowing how great and wonderful and protective Big Brother is.
What we end up seeing, however, is less propaganda and more how a propaganda film is made and that's not exactly favorable to the regime. The family patriarch, whose name we never do learn, is a print journalist, but that doesn't fit with the filmmaker's (government handlers') vision. For this "documentary", Zin-mi's father is an engineer in a garment factory. The reason for this sudden change of career becomes rather evident a little later during a ridiculously staged event. Mother works at a soy milk factory, an "essential job" that contributes to the excellent health of her family and friends. "Workshop" as the Handler likes to correct, "Not a factory." And it's not friend, it's Comrade because "it sounds better." It doesn't take too long to see where this film is going. Manskiy's handlers have scripted nearly every move the camera makes, and every word spoken.
The handlers are master exploiters, and the exploited are terrified. You can see it in their expressions and in their actions. If this were a movie you'd be laughing at the horrible acting. But this isn't acting, it's real. Frighteningly real. It's what happens after the camera supposedly stops rolling that makes this documentary. Manskiy dutifully films the action his handlers have scripted, almost as if he acquiesced to his role of propaganda cameraman. Unbeknownst to his handlers though, it is them who will be the stars of this film because the camera continues to record long after they believe it to be off. The manipulator becomes the manipulated.
TWO things you'll LIKE about "Under the Sun": 1) You'll learn a few things about North Korea, and you'll be thankful you don't live there. 2) There is no narrator per se, but there is some written text that appears on the screen every so often that further analyzes (albeit subjectively) a scene. There is English subtitles for spoken dialogue. It's important to listen (read) to what is being said. There's a particularly heart-wrenching scene where Manskiy, who is filming a crying girl, asks the handler to help her. The response is as disturbing as it is sad.
TWO things you'll DISLIKE: 1) Although informative, this film doesn't quite show enough of the neglected underbelly of North Korea. You won't see the starving and emaciated we often hear about. You won't see the abuses or horrifying examples of what happens to those who don't clap loud enough or aren't as effusive as they should be when instructed. Just as well, anyway, because what we do play witness to is troubling enough. 2) Some scenes are a little longer than they should be, almost to the point of being boring.
- Jan 22, 2018