Under the Sun

Shot with the permission and supervision of North Korean authorities—a collaboration they would come to regret—Under the Sun turns a propaganda effort into a deep-cover documentary about life inside one of the world’s most repressive nations. Russian director Vitaly Mansky was guided to preapproved locations in Pyongyang and provided with model subjects: young Lee Zin-mi, a student at the city’s best school, and her parents, workers at two exemplary factories (or so officials claimed). The film follows Zin-mi as she studies the triumphs of Great Leader Kim Il-sung, joins the Children’s Union, and participates in the national celebration of Kim Jong-il’s birthday. Each sequence is rigorously scripted for maximum ideological correctness, but Mansky shows the cracks in the façade: schoolchildren struggle to stay awake during lectures, adults’ carefully composed expressions flicker with exhaustion and anxiety, and even the resolutely compliant Zin-mi eventually crumbles under pressure. By keeping the camera rolling while ever-present minders exhort the citizen-performers to play themselves “more joyfully,” Mansky reveals the grinding gears of the totalitarian message machine. “I wanted to make a film about the real Korea,” he said, but what he found instead was “the myth of a real life.”

Juliet Clark
  • Alexandra Ivanova
  • Mikhail Gorubchuk
  • Korean
  • with English subtitles
Print Info
  • Color
  • DCP
  • 106 mins