More noise than signal

The Juche Idea

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site,

Ahh, North Korea. As Bill Bailey would describe it, the keyboard player in the Axis of Evil. It is very difficult to take the nation seriously as a threat to anyone’s security, let alone the entire world. I suppose, for a nation with at least nuclear ambitions if not nuclear capability and a large, though ill-equipped standing army we shouldn’t be so glib about them. But Kim Jong Il, though! Look at him! The daft little blighter! If ever there was a national leader more susceptible to Nelson Muntz-style pointing and laughing they haven’t been alive at the same time I have.

Being rude and snarky about North Korea is rather like shooting a barrel falling off a log, or something else that happens to be quite easy. The Juche Idea takes a slightly more high concept point by combining existing documentary footage of parades and so forth glorifying the Dear Little Leader, official North Korean backed films (themselves a laughable experience) and original ‘mockumentary’ footage of a South Korean filmmaker working, by choice, in a North Korean artist’s commune.

This is not, in theory, a terrible idea. I’ve heard much worse. In the cold, harsh, unforgiving glare of a reality that shows little mercy to anyone, it doesn’t really work in practice. When the concept of a film feels like it’s rather stretched despite only running to a slender sixty-odd minutes, there’s trouble brewing at t’mill. There are a few laughs to be had, admittedly, although most of those feel rather cheap and tawdry. There’s only so much milage to be had out of Russians speaking English in a broad, stilted accent. Well, okay, there’s a practically infinite amount of milage to be had out of Russians speaking English in a broad, stilted accent, but I’m not going to pretend it’s massively highbrow entertainment.

The point of the film, if we can call it that for a minute, seems to be an examination of Kim Jong Il’s Juche tracts, waffling on about self-sufficiency and how revolutionary art should challenge capitalist ideals and, essentially, tow the Party line in ways that Chief Whips would love to be able to emulate. As points go, it’s gently made to the point of being more or less unnoticeable.

I hereby pull myself up short, as I’m starting to sound rather more harsh than this film deserves or I’d intended. It is, after all, at least mildly diverting, and given the number of actively offensive or extraordinarily disinteresting films I’ve sat through so far this festival this actually puts it reasonably high up the rankings. It’s decent, in a sort of mediocre, keep watching if you stumble upon it while channel hopping sort of way, but there’s just not enough here to warrant expending any effort in seeing it.