Tuesday, July 19, 2016
Under the Sun (orig. V paprscích slunce) 
aFisha.ru (A.Bocharova) review*
iDnes.cz (M. Spačilová) review*
kritiky.cz (Alze) review*
The Guardian (C. Gray) review
The Hollywood Report (S. Dalton) review
Under the Sun (orig. V paprscích slunce / Im Strahl der Sonne / В лучах солнца)  [IMDb] [CSFD]*[KP.ru]*(directed by Vitaliy Manskiy [IMDb] [CSFD]*[KP.ru]*[KT.ru]*) is a remarkable CZECH, RUSSIAN, GERMAN and LATVIAN collaboration that sent the Russian filmmaker and his film crew to NORTH KOREA to shoot a documentary about life in that reclusive and almost impossible to gain access to country. The film played recently at Facets Multimedia in Chicago and serves as the seventh stop on my 2016 Russian Film Tour.
Despite hurdles -- Viewers are informed by a caption at the beginning of the film that when the film-makers arrived, their North Korean government hosts "graciously gave them a hand-picked North Korean family to film, as well as a complete and detailed screenplay for the proposed documentary, as well as 24 hours a day accompaniment for the duration of their stay" (I'm not kidding :-) -- the report produced is remarkable, in good part because the film-makers were able to edit the product after they left the country.
So we get to see a North Korean government appointed "assistant director" / minder accompanying the film-crew coaching the "typical North Korean family" residing in Pyongyang (the capital) -- Parents in their 30s, the mother a garment worker, the father an "engineer" at the same garment factory (in reality, he apparently was a journalist) with their 8-9 year old daughter about to quite solemnly enter into the North Korean Youth League (the DPRK's equivalent of the Pioneer movement) -- how to get through their "typical conversation" at their "typical meal" in their "typical apartment" (nice freshly painted / white walled, if quite spartan-ly furnished).
The "typical conversation" between the "typical father" and the "typical nine year old daughter" (probably authentically proud of getting her new "sash" at the "pioneer induction ceremony" earlier in the day) included articulating (for viewers) the caloric and vitamin content of kimchi ;-) as well as its health benefits -- seemingly able to ward-off everything from the common cold to cancer ;-) which would be _a good thing to know_ (or at least _believe_) in a country that doesn't exactly have a lot of resources to spend -- with said segment in said "typical conversation" ending "with a good hardy laugh" -- "Let's practice the laugh, ha-ha-ha" suggests the kindly if (why is he there at all?) North Korean government appointed "assistant director" ;-)
We're then taken to the "typical school" of the "typical nine year old girl" where all the nice nine year old girls all dressed in quite immaculately laundered / pressed government-issue school uniforms get to practice memorizing (age-appropriate) aspects of the biography of Great Founder Generalisimo Kim Il-Sung, including that he would apparently shoot rocks at the Japanese and Rich Land-owning Oppressors of the People (back in the day). They also got to listen to a lecture given by a kindly but honestly quite senile North Korean war veteran (in a quite medal laden uniform) who _tried_ but honestly didn't quite understand the North Koren government appointed "assistant" director's directions. As such, the CUTE AS A BUTTON 9-year old girls in their well-pressed / well laundered uniforms, if ALWAYS WELL BEHAVED, just started to ... dose off ... ;-).
This then becomes, honestly, a SPECTACULAR DOCUMENTARY ... where the post-Communist Russian director and his film crew PLAY IT COMPLETELY STRAIGHT (while they were there in North Korea) and LET their NORTH KOREAN HOSTS / MINDERS stage _absolutely everything_ and yet PRODUCE a documentary that honestly shocks most WESTERN VIEWERS.
The viewer is really asked: How could one live like that? Arguably EVEN THE "TYPICAL FAMILY" was _made up_. The film crew caught the father in a lie (he was introduced apparently to them as a North Korean journalist and then when they came to do the scenes "at the garment factory" suddenly he was playing an engineer). And the film crew also noted that the "typical nine year old girl" was THE ONLY GIRL GOING HOME FROM SCHOOL EACH DAY (during their shooting). THE REST OF THE GIRLS APPARENTLY REMAINED APPARENTLY AT SOME BARRACKS AT THE SCHOOL (and MAY HAVE EVEN BEEN POSSIBLE that she WASN'T EVEN THE DAUGHTER of the "typical parents" that she was "coming home" to).
Again played COMPLETELY STRAIGHT AS IT WAS, this documentary becomes a stunning indictment of the North Korean regime with it _hanging itself_ BY ITS OWN ACTIONS.
HERE, I must note that the talented (and his editing of this film self-evidently quite _funny_) Russian director, Vitaliy Manskiy [IMDb] [CSFD]*[KP.ru]*[KT.ru]*, after completing his filming of the documentary DID NOT RETURN TO RUSSIA (!) to complete the project but RATHER WENT TO NEIGHBORING LATVIA to do so and HAS STAYED THERE EVER SINCE.
This becomes significant in itself and it _says something_ IMPORTANT about the status of Russian film making in (Putin's) Russia today. Apparently, Vitaliy Manskiy [IMDb] [CSFD]*[KP.ru]*[KT.ru]* felt he had to leave his own country to finish this project (about another country ... but with common, if past, Communist history).
For many, that will be "ALL that one needs to know about the status of Russian film-making today" -- that its film-makers don't necessarily feel safe in their own country.
And yet that appears to be where we are today.
Russia's government / its people have a choice: They can let their ever talented and often avant-garde artistic community the freedom to do their craft which they can _self-evidently_ DO VERY WELL ... OR ... they can _choose_ to retreat back to a time when 10-20-30 years from now some RUSSIAN government appointed "assistant director" will be "helping" some "typical Moscow family" "eat / talk about the nutritional qualities / health benefits of eating borscht" (!) before a bewildered Western film crew wondering how this omnipresent government controlled nightmare became possible in Russia (again).
Sigh -- the world does not need a Russia that frightens the daylights out of people (and entire peoples) again. But the whole world will stand to lose if the talents of its people are repressed once again.
* Foreign language webpages are most easily translated using Google's Chrome Browser.
** To load Websites from South, East and Eurasia in a timely fashion, installation of ad-blocking software is often required.
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