A State Of Mind (2004)
Genre: Sport Documentary (North Korea, UK)
Starring: Kim Song Yun, Pak Hyon Sun
Directed By: Daniel Gordon
Overview: In a unique look at life in North Korean, we follow two girls as they live and train for the Mass Games, a gymnastics event featuring tens of thousands of participants.
Acting: It's almost eerie how these people fit to a tee the exact mold you've preconceived for them. This is the thing though: you really don't see any doubt in their words of undying love for their leader. This is not a documentary where filmmakers were secreted in and the film smuggled out. This has been perused and accepted as a worthy export of North Korea, and the people they've selected to represent them are true patriots. The selected cast was a perfect choice.
Cinematography: Oh this is impressive. You have the basics of the documentary form: interviews and city life combined with the unique art and architecture of this nation (with a truly majestic trip to the mountains too). Above all things though, the reason to come watch this doc is the spectacle that is the grand choreography of the Mass Games. Just imagine thousands of people moving in unison as a perfect symbol of communism, sacrificing the individual for the state. This is what drew me, and I was pleased with what I received.
Script: This is what truly sets the tone of the entire film. Without words like "I do it for our glorious General. I hope he sees me perform, it's the most important day of my life," spoken genuinely by these girls, we would not have such a candid understanding of the modern North Korean mentality. Yes, you may wonder how much of it is contrived, how much of it is censored and edited, but by it's end, you know it's genuine. To us, it's haunting, but in an 'enlightening' way.
Plot: Frankly I was a little disappointed in the ending. While I watched the final Mass Games competition that they've been working on for all this time, I wondered why it was so thoroughly edited, so completely compressed. I gladly would have enjoyed another ten minutes of that rather than more interviews explaining their unwavering loyalty to 'The General'. We explore the lives of these girls as they talk about how hard training is and touch upon the lives of their families. I found it just a little too 'typical doc' for my tastes. I wanted more of what I expected, instead of the repetition I got.
Mood: One scene has a lesson taught in class where they discuss the three 'Greatnesses of our leader'. "He is Great in Aura" was the third. The themes here, captured by a British documentarist certainly maintain an unbiased view, however strange and occasionally creepy. From our perspective we see the faults of the communist system, but at the same time we can see the selfish faults in our own politics as well. The fact that this is the typical everyday life of a North Korean is what makes it work. It's immersive. And boy, do they hate America.
Overall Rating: 82% (Didn't Mind It At All)
Aftertaste: I'd have to say the greatest disappointment would have to be that last scene. Somehow, Daniel Gordon thought that the culmination of an entire year's work, the last scene of a documentary about life in North Korea, should be slathered over by the music of Sarah McLachlan. I guess of all her songs, this was decent, but please. This should not have been the last memory I had for this film. I was surprised, frankly.