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Review: Under the Sun

A surprising film that got a little bit mixed up in the shuffle during the Hot Docs Film Festival, (perhaps the title was too similar to another film), Under The Sun receives a theatrical release at the Ted Rogers Hot Docs Cinema.

This film demands to be seen on a big screen because its sense of greatness would be lost on a smaller setting. Vitaly Mansky was escorted and arranged to film in Dear Leader’s DPRK, but only on the condition that the footage was controlled and disseminated by his hosts.

The punishing demands make for a fan(t)a(s)tic experience, because the film itself had to fit within the confines of being acceptable. Therefore, it is in the between takes and unguarded moments that the film finds its focus.

This is not to say that the film itself isn’t fascinating, as a deep gaze into life under the rule of Kim Jong-Un surprises in how banal and yet demanding the experience shows itself to be. Synchronized song and dance, for example, looks not nearly as much fun here as elsewhere. Yet the film itself, at least the formal element, is just that: formal. It is almost too formal, like the director turned the experience into something out of a Tarkovsky film, for example, (or a modern take, like the film Court).

The tribulation of watching a film Under The Sun is that with little break in the action, the experience becomes something of an endurance test. While it focuses on one girl, Zin-Mi, during joining the Korean Children’s Union on The Day of the Shining Star, the entire exercise may be entirely fictional. So it is difficult to accept anything we are seeing as real, and even the cracks in the façade may be a ruse.

Nonetheless, the final sequence is riveting, but may not bring us even closer to the truth than when we began the journey. The audience too stares directly into the sun, unable to see the stars.

[star v=4]