Thanks to my departed friend William S. (Bill) Dalzell for his spiritual awareness and the knowledge of such films which he bequeathed to me.
And, I wish to add, this film inspires me to think of all those suffering state-sanctioned cruelty here in the present, including all the souls locked up in our prisons for sins and misdeeds of which, if they repent, it is not acknowledged or allowed; and for which they know no Christian forgiveness.
Three years ago (it seems like yesterday), I saw a film at the Film Forum in Manhattan: Under the Sun, a documentary film about North Korea. Such a film would be pretty much unavailable in movie theaters outside of New York. I saw it five times within a period of a few days. Each time I went back I saw something I had missed.
The film, in Korean, was directed by the Russian documentary filmmaker Vitaly Mansky.
The central person in the film, who is unforgettable, is an adorable eight-year-old North Korean girl named Zin-mi. Zin-mi lives with her parents – except we don’t know if they really are her parents; they may be actors playing her parents — in an apartment that may have been a “stage prop” in Pyongyang.
The director, Vitaly Mansky, spent almost a year in Pyongyang, ostensibly collaborating with government authorities to shoot a documentary about an eight-year-old girl’s (Zin-mi’s) entry into that country’s Children’s Union, the political organization that all young people there are required to join.
A New York Times critic, Glenn Kenny, made the following very perceptive, right on the money comment about the film: “It touches a nerve substantially deeper than the ‘I’m sure glad I don’t live there’ one.”
The North Korean government went to great lengths to try to prevent the film from being released.
The film is a “quasi documentary.” The compelling thing about it is that you come away caring about the people and touched by the film’s PATHOS — despite the fact that one is aware that the people live regimented lives in a totalitarian state where they have been effectively brainwashed and reduced almost to automatons (or so it often seems).
The film is beautifully done and tugs and pulls at the viewer emotionally on many levels. It features beautiful, elegiac music — used sparingly with great effect — composed by a Latvian composer, Karlis Auzans.
The plot is ostensibly about Zin-mi going through steps, including school, as she prepares to join the Korean Children’s Union. At the film’s conclusion, she breaks down and cries upon being admitted to the Children’s Union. She is perhaps crying from relief that the stress of achieving the goal is over and, it seems, from what one would call joy mixed with sadness.
The scene of Zin-mi crying in the film is on YouTube at
The film captures the pathos — musically and otherwise — in a scene where you see North Koreans having family photos taken in a sort of assembly line fashion. A couple stands proudly in front of an automatic camera with their children. The photo is taken and another couple poses. And so on. As they stare into the camera, one sees expressions of pride but also feels a great sadness. The music rises to an emotional pitch and captures this. One feels empathy with the people posing, with the North Koreans. One feels that they are people, just like us.
That, despite very hard lives, they experience feelings like ours. One feels like crying oneself, but one, at the same time, experiences a kind of joy in contemplating the miracle of human existence, and how this elemental reality links us all, regardless of circumstances.
You can hear the elegiac, profoundly moving music composed by Mr. Auzans for this scene at
I’m following the foot philosophy and am going to Manhattan to take the ferry again. I’m not sure why.
I saw “Ex Libris,” the Frederick Wiseman film about the New York Public Library, last night … it’s over three hours long.
I was tired, which may have been a factor, but I wasn’t that thrilled with the film; and, I was very disappointed with Wiseman’s “lecture” Thursday evening.
Nevertheless, I am glad I saw the film.
Today, I am going at 11 a.m. to see another film at the Film Forum: “The Red Pony,” a late 1940’s film, with a score by Aaron Copland, based on the Steinbeck novella. We read it in junior HS.
I had one good teacher in junior high: Miss Hanlon, our eighth grade English teacher. She seemed to think well of me and of my appreciation of reading.
Once we were reading “The Red Pony” and I made what seems in retrospect to have been a perceptive comment about the boy, Jody’s, father. I said that he was a certain kind of stern father who had trouble showing affection for his son. I was thinking of my relationship with my own father. Miss Hanlon appreciated these comments.