The Propaganda Game – Film Review by Conor MacNamara
Director: Álvaro Longoria
Writer: Álvaro Longoria
Alvaro Longoria’s inside look at the North Korean propaganda apparatus feels like an impossible task: trying to craft an informative and impartial documentary from the pre-prepared, vacuous itinerary of official tour guides and rigid set pieces.
Described as the “last bastion of Communism” the primary character of the surreal pantomime is the Spanish tour guide Alejandro, a former Marxist and self-declared Ambassador of the West to North Korea, leap frogging from school to school to preach of the squalid desperation of the rest of the world, and the envy we all share for the feudalistic dictatorship of Kim Jong Un’s glorious double chinned utopia.
The sheer amount of one-liners from the tour guides is worthy of mention. Between visits to empty apartments and expensively vacant war museums Longoria attempts to challenge Alejandro on the atrocious human rights record of his Marxist paradise. The decorated tourist guide replies from behind a wall of patriotic satisfaction: “human rights are merely the globalisation of Capitalism” – exactly what he means by this is left to the viewer’s imagination.
Thankfully there are voices of reason to cut through the white noise of frothing ideology. Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of the Human Rights Watch amongst others attempt to breathe some sanity back into the spectacle, to the backdrop of archival footage of the Red scare, outraged news media and the infamous buzzword that always crops up when discussing North Korea – nuclear.
The overwhelming message of the regime, particularly in respects to its nuclear programme, is essentially the Madman Nixon tactic – “don’t mess with us because we’re crazy enough to do anything!”
Longoria opts for a back seat approach in his filmmaking, allowing the participants to take the helm, or in the case of the tour guides, take the soapbox to recite lines as the film crew attempt to deviate from their official route and catch glimpses of the strings holding the various vignettes together. One such event is Longoria’s tepid attempts to coax an explanation of the official governmental philosophy named Juche, a curious bastardisation of Marxist-Leninism concocted by North Koreas original leader, Kim Il-Sung. What is Juche? No one knows. It is a system of belief built on a code intentionally designed to be incoherent and therefore above criticism. At an army council meeting a group of general’s attempt to awkwardly stammer an explanation from behind jangling medals, before leaning over and regurgitating the familiar slogans: “Are you a philosophy expert?” “You should see the reality for yourself, a picture is worth 1000 words” – cut to another empty apartment building.
The result is a sad story, and nothing we haven’t seen before. Longoria is careful to underline the important element that western media harbours its own propaganda, mainly fed off of its own hysteria and search for an instant 24-hour news cycle, which only feeds the engine of Kim Jong Un’s regime clips of Bill O’Reilly and Fox news are held up as evidence of the West’s unceasing attacks on the Korean people.
What we have then is simply a whirlpool of pathetic paranoia and manipulation; there is nothing threatening here, no jack-booted soldiers or mobilised populace. If anything the soldiers are the most fearful looking of the whole lot, hoisting ancient AK-47s as their government threatens war with America and subjects them to an Orwellian ‘loyalty test’ caste system to determine their lot in life.
Simply put, Longoria attempts to hand a microphone to the Korean people themselves, and the recycled slogans they reply with are evidence to their governments knee-jerk reactions of fear and suspicion to the world around them, mirrored all too similarly by the equally knee-jerk hysteria of the Western media. And the wheel of propaganda keeps on a-turning.