This brief, chilling portrait of North Korean public life (shot in 1988 by a Polish crew) makes a fascinating companion piece to Dogville, thanks to the plummy British voice-over that translates the die-hard denizens’ emphatic speech and works in deadpan counterpoint to the nightmarish pomp and circumstance on-screen. Though North Korea: The Parade strives to be nonjudgmental, the title comes off as richly ironic about five minutes in, when we learn of the superiority of the North Korean cinema system, in which “a director is an independent creative artist accountable only to the party.”
Much of the interest here is in seeing firsthand the utterly pervasive cult of personality surrounding the late “Great Leader,” Kim Il-sung, in his seventies but looking hale in ’88. His in-the-flesh appearance at a congress draws interminable, terrified applause, while throughout the film his painted visage is sinister in its ubiquity, materializing on the wall as schoolgirls adjust firearms at shooting practice. Parades are surreal in scale, not to mention float decorations—giant crabs, chunks of factories, youths playing table tennis and probably peeing their pants that the ball doesn’t fall to the pavement—and a giant white statue of Kim is never far behind. Even the natural landscape can’t escape the Great Leader’s reach: There’s a rock commemorating the location where his wife, off to see the mountains, decided instead to return home and fix her husband dinner.