Maybe I am a bit late to the party on this one, but here are 5 reasons you MUST watch this incredible 2015 film about North Korea, documenting a year in the life of a family in Pyongyang, as their daughter Zin-mi prepares to join the Korean Children's Union on the Day of the Shining Star (Kim Jong-il's birthday).
The first objection to most documentary films is: “Yes but that is just what they want you to think, it is biased and only shows one point of view” etc. etc… This is very different. The only way Vitaly Mansky (director) was allowed to make this, was by agreeing to only show footage approved by the North Korean government. So in many ways we see only what the North Korean government wants us to see. At the start there is a small indication telling us that the script has been written and the locations have all been chosen by the NK government which leads us to what makes this film so extraordinary…
It is not a documentary-film in the conventional sense of the word – narrated by someone with a comfortable voice offering us commentary and sotto voce persuasion – but rather in a far truer sense of the word. It documents. There is no commentary and the only spoken word is the script created by the NK government. However, during filming, Mansky was able to set it up so that what his crew recorded was saved on two memory sticks. The camera woman gave one to the NK handlers who duly edited the footage but managed to hide the second. The results are unsettling and bleak. Be sure to watch the longer, non-approved by the NK government version of the film
The musical score is wonderful and Karlis Auzans manages to represent the bleakness beautifully with (predominantly) the cello, violin and piano. Long melancholic melodies that intertwine, and slow repeated notes on the piano, isolated in their own vibration, surrounded by nothing act as a fitting metaphor to the content of this film.
It is a masterpiece of camera work. Being that there is no commentary everything must be said with the camera.
It is heartbreaking in the most nuanced of ways – you won’t be sobbing because it is too unsettling and awkward to ever really let go – but there are some moments which are overwhelming. Because the film follows Zin-mi, a young school girl, there is much about the education and subsequent indoctrination of children, which to anyone who works closely with children is nothing short of unbearable to watch (For me, the emotional wave crested during a scene of Zin-mi being taught how to dance.)
So make sure you have some time in the near future, don’t be looking for a feel-good film (you are way off with this one) and give this a chance.