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Under the Sun
Under the Sun

The controversial film Under the Sunby Russian filmmaker Vitaly Mansky, which documents life in reclusive North Korea , will receive its Chicago premiere at Facets, for a week’s run starting Friday, July 8th.

The film, which originally had the permission of North Korea before the authorities stopped cooperating, was recently dropped from a New York documentary festival planned by the Museum of Modern Art.

Under the Sun

Called “both surreal and sinister, it feels like we are watching a real-life version of The Truman Show” by the Hollywood Reporter and “Extraordinary and revealing” by Screen International, the film was shot with the permission and supervision of North Korean authorities. It was a collaboration they would come to regret, turns a propaganda effort into a deep-cover documentary about life inside one of the world’s most repressive nations.

“The experienced filmmaker has turned the imposed limitations into a huge advantage and simply let the fourth wall fall, exposing the sheer brutality of the North Korean state machine and the misery of living in this society. Without revealing a single detail of the functioning of the state apparatus, Mansky has conveyed its very essence,” said the film journal, Cineuropa.

Russian director Vitaly Mansky was guided to preapproved locations in Pyongyang and provided with model subjects: young Lee Zin-mi, a student at the city’s best school, and her parents, workers at two exemplary factories (or so officials claimed). The film follows Zin-mi as she studies the triumphs of Great Leader Kim Il-sung, joins the Children’s Union and participates in the national celebration of Kim Jong-il’s birthday.

Each sequence is rigorously scripted for maximum ideological correctness, but Mansky shows the cracks in the façade: schoolchildren struggle to stay awake during lectures, the carefully composed expressions of the adults flicker with exhaustion and anxiety; even the resolutely compliant Zin-mi eventually succumbs under the pressure. By keeping the camera rolling while ever-present minders exhort the citizen-performers to play themselves “more joyfully,” Mansky reveals the grinding gears of the totalitarian message machine. “I wanted to make a film about the real Korea,” he said, but what he found instead was “the myth of a real life.”

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