By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
Yes, Under the Sun is another documentary about North Korea, but Vitaliy Manskiy and his crew pull something off that no others have, or will ever again. They built special cameras, with two memory cards, you see. One with all the state-approved official content, and one with every shot they could steal of normal life in Pyongyang and all the artifice that goes into these State-permitted glimpses of its people.
Every day is Octoberfest in Pyongyang.
Ostensibly, Under the Sun follows young Zin-mi as she prepares to enter the Children’s Union, and the big dance performance that will commemorate the occasion.
One of the first things that will strike you about Pyongyang is its eerie quiet. There are no city noises, no hustle and bustle, no traffic that doesn’t appear to be studiously staged, like the bus scene where the handlers demand several reshoots of little Zin-mi getting on the only bus we see the entire film, then waving goodbye to her parents.
What other documentaries about North Korea have largely failed at, and what Mansky’s approach allows him to accomplish, is catching people off their guard, without the perfect composure and actorial pretense. Even something like children wrinkling their nose to suppress an itch during a long speech is achingly human and terrifying in its implications.
You also get a pretty good idea of the horror stories the children get fed in school, stories apparently so commonplace they struggle to stay awake while an old veteran describes Americans hunting down and burning children and… shooting tombstones thinking they were people? You know, because they had people’s names on them.
The entire American army, apparently.
Mansky has a real eye for finding humanity and deeper meaning in quotidian images, paired with an evocative violin score- this would still qualify as an effective art film if it was shot anywhere else in the world.
The last scene is heart-rending. Zin-mi is either a great little actress or the purest example of why this country has sustained itself as long as it has. To some clear extent, propaganda and indoctrination works.
But only there, right?
The question must be asked- was this a responsible decision by the filmmakers? Sure, they completed the heist successfully, but what about that family or those handlers left behind? What happened to them?
Image unrelated, I fucking hope.
The film can also feel a tad repetitive in places, but you can’t fault the decision to include as much of this rarer than rare footage as possible.
Under the Sun is one of the most uncommon documentaries you’ll see, showing the North Korean propaganda machine en media res.
Under the Sun (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for soldiers
Take a Drink: for propagandistic lessons for the little girl
Take a Drink: whenever you see the handlers
Take a Drink: for alternate takes
Take a Drink: for the red flower
Do a Shot: when you realized it’s named a “kimjongilia”
Do a Shot: “Action!”