Under the Sun (film)

Under the sun (Directed by Vitaliy Manskiy)/2016

I was once told by my sunday school teacher that we have two ears and one mouth because God wanted us to listen twice as much as speaking. Time and time again, at school, church, work we are constantly reminded of the importance of listening and paying attention to others' before we express and impose our views and judgements on others. Which is exactly what Vitaliy Manskiy did in his film about a day in the lives of a little girl in North Korea. 

Many a other visual works on North Korea had focused on what could be retrieved as the 'truth' from this hermit kingdom shrouded in iron secrecy. Manskiy, in what I think is a stroke of genius, instead turned it around and asked the North Korean authorities to show us what they would like to show: the script and direction of the film has been entirely left to the hands of the North Korean national propaganda team with Manskiy holding the camera.

What we see is an incredible exercise of reverse psychology: what the propaganda institution decides to show when it is left to its own devices, when it has been given an absolute freedom to create. The film revolves around the lives of a little girl called Zin-mi and her parents; a family that may be considered middle-class living in the state's capital Pyongyang.

Manskiy's camera does not judge or probe, it merely observes what is presented; what is subdued; what is highlighted. Freedom to do whatever also means freedom not to do and that perhaps is more telling than what is chosen to be done; particularly when there is such a huge political and cultural gulf between our existence and Zin-mi's.

Perfectly behaving, bright children, eerily empty school except for Zin-mi's classroom, empty city except around the bus Zin-mi's getting on. The audience can gather remarkable insight by watching the surroundings than the intended focus in a scene. The viewers also notice smile-less, tired, and cold looking people with a constant look of fear or worry on their faces.

By watching what has been presented in this film, the viewers also engage in an exercise of trying to understand the world behind the scenes. Not only do we get to see what the authorities 'choose' to show us, we also look out for other signs on the periphery of the screen. It is as if we're trying to delve into find something in the sub-conscious of the film. In turn the film no longer becomes a visual product but it is simply a medium which the North Koreans and the rest of the world try to communicate with each other: them telling us something, and we trying to understand where they're coming from.

I really enjoyed the calm and compassionate eye of Manskiy's camera. I felt that this method allowed far more information to come through than what something like a surreptitious hat-cam could have ever achieved (a method that is fixated on usurping anything the North Koreans have to say). It is one of the more unique films on the most secretive country in the world I've seen and it is one that comes across quite courteous and respectful. And once we start to behave more courteous to each other and treat them like human beings perhaps we might have more chance of a dialogue.

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