Published: 26 February, 2016
by DAN CARRIER
The Propaganda Game
Directed by Álvaro Longoria
4 Stars out of 5
THIS documentary offers a rare chance to go behind the headlines and have a State-organised guided tour of North Korea.
Documentary-maker Álvaro Longoria joins Alejandro Cao de Benos, a Spanish Communist who works for the North Korean government, on a 10-day tour through the capital city Pyongyang.
The result is an eccentric travelogue, where the viewer is invited to make up their own minds as to the inherent evil or madly misunderstood world of the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea.
It isn’t easy watching: this is a nation of 24 million people paying ludicrous, feudal adoration to one person. As the film says: they are given free housing but told where to live, free medical care but there are no drugs to administer, and a free education that acts to brainwash pupils into subservience to the regime.
When the Cold War began there were those in the West who did not want to swallow myths wholesale, and sought to bear witness.
Photographer Robert Capa and writer John Steinbeck set out to explore the USSR in 1948, with an eye to meeting “ordinary” Russians, something they managed to do only in fits and starts as everything was so media managed. However, their book, A Russian Journal, makes this clear and is a superb read.
The same happens here – we are given tantalising glimpses into how North Koreans live, while being aware it is a story told through the prism of government guides.
Many say they are happy and well cared for, that the dictatorship is benign and like a father. But then you get chinks in the cracks – one man is asked some basic questions about daily life and he breaks out into a fearful sweat.
Perhaps this film should have concentrated on the extraordinary life and times of the Spanish communist who has become a general in the North Korean army. He tells us repeatedly how American imperialism is to blame. On the other side, we get the equally ludicrous Fox News-style angle that creates an image of pure evil.
Occasionally, a middle ground appears with human rights activists and UN inspectors that point out the bare facts of a State run by the cult of personality that oppresses millions.
Pertinently, the film puts forward the idea that having North Korea as a pariah state suits the big global players: it gives China a border with an aid-reliant ally instead of a pro-American unified Korea. It allows the US to keep bases in the strategic south and in Japan.
Maybe the fall of the regime is the last thing geo-politicians want. This film poses such questions.