Kimjongilia Addresses the Mess that Is North Korea


An impressionistic primer-doc on the state of the mess that is North Korea, this odd debut takes most of its time interviewing refugees that have lived through the Kim regime’s hellacious deprivations and slaughterhouse ethics, and escaped to tell the tale. Their sobering stories are potent if unrevealing—though first-time filmmaker N.C. Heikin heaps in scads of eye-popping, stomach-churning pro-Kim propaganda (commercials, films, live pageants so huge and bizarre they border on science fiction), how the regime has maintained its “brainwashed” hold on its populace even as it starves millions of them to death is a mystery too overwhelming to parse here. (“I don’t understand, even now,” one witness groans, and the world is with her.) Instead, Heikin (a performance artist and dancer) punctuates the galling testimony with long drifts of risible, chiffon-draped interpretive dance, a formal choice that evokes the smug idiocy of recent Oscar broadcasts more than actual historical gravity and the real suffering of the movie’s participants. Arguably the most dysfunctional culture of the past few centuries, North Korea is a cosmically mad movie waiting to happen. But for now, Heikin’s is merely insubstantial.