Magazine article Screen International

Under the Sun': Review

Magazine article Screen International

Under the Sun': Review

Article excerpt

Dir. Vitaly Mansky. Russia/Latvia/Germany/Czech Republic/North Korea. 2015. 106mins.

Out of shot, a voice barks "Go". Eight-year-old North Korean schoolgirl Zin-Mi turns to camera with a beatific smile. "My father says that Korea is the most beautiful country... Korea is the land of the rising sun." Message delivered, her smile wavers just a little as the camera continues to record.

The script of this extraordinary and revealing film, about an ordinary family in Pyongyang, was assigned to the filmmakers by the North Korean authorities. The crew was accompanied at all times by minders 'to prevent us from getting lost'; the locations were pre-selected; the performances orchestrated to depict suitably fervent levels of patriotism. All the footage was scrutinised by DPRK officials to check for mistakes in showing a typical family in 'the best country in the world'. It's no wonder that the smiles start look a little forced. What's more unexpected is just how much Russian documentary filmmaker Vitaly Mansky is able to reveal despite, and often because of, the stringent restrictions imposed upon him.

This film is a high-quality package about a newsworthy but little-seen subject: a life beyond the festival circuit seems certain. Under The Sun comes to Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival having already won Best Film at the Jihlava International Documentary Festival in the Czech Republic. Critical support should help to generate theatrical interest, and television sales are likely.

Mansky has past experience in documenting countries ruled by hidebound communist regimes. His 2011 film, Motherland Or Death, is a study of day to day life in Cuba. Even so, the level of control imposed by the DPRK government must have come as a shock. But Mansky turns it into a gift. By leaving the camera running almost continuously, during the meticulous set up of each shot, during take after take in which the message is fine-tuned, during the hectoring direction from the minders ("Again! …

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