Wednesday, April 30, 2008

North Korea: A Day in the Life (documentary short from the Netherlands)

North Korea: A Day in the Life (“Noord-Korea: Een dag uit het leven”), directed by Pieter Fleury (2004, the Netherlands, 48 min, distributor Total Film; Production by Key Monkey) gives us a “hands-on” up-close look at a day in the life of a North Korean family living in a typical box apartment in a concrete, ex-Soviet Pyongyang high rise. The film shows a shocking, robot-like conformity along with a pretense of sing-song cheeriness. There is a clothing factory, and the workers each have a quota per day, and have to catch up when there is a power outage. There are English classes for adults, and children. There is a morals class where the leader give up his boots and wears wet sneakers just like “the proles.” The family eats with chopsticks, and the children are urged not to waste food (especially short-supply vegetables like kimchi). Everywhere, including the immaculate subways, looms the image of secular cult god Kim Jong Il. There is actually a music lesson, with instruments like the choptae and kayagum.

The film demonstrates how extreme Communist psychology works. This is more or less a continuation of the Mao cultural revolution. The cities get emptied out and everyone toils in the countryside. Everyone is forced to share in toil “equally” so that everyone is taken care of. That is the philosophy, but of course the moral umbrage doesn’t apply to Kim Jong Il himself, as it did not apply to Chairman Mao. There is one place where the Internet is mentioned, and explained in English.

The director, in an interview, remarks that his motivation for the film was a bit like that of filming a day in the life of the Beatles. The extras suggest that a little bit of market economy, such as Farmers Market, is developing. But people are "watched" all the time, everywhere they go. People manage to develop some individuality without the political right to individual freedom and differential expression as we would experience it.

The worst movie that I ever saw was “The Flower Girl” from North Korea, and shown at the Washington Square Methodist Church in Greenwich Village one night in the fall of 1974. It was long and tiresome, as children struggle over and over to find medicine for their mother. It was collective consciousness in the extreme.

Picture: actually, Huntley Meadows near Alexandria, VA

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