Tuesday, March 10, 2009
The Juche Idea -
Jung Yoon Lee, a South Korean born filmmaker, moves from Japan to a North Korean artists camp, where she farms and films in a Stalinist paradise that worships dictator Kim Jong Il and his Juche philosophy of art. The framework of The Juche Idea is a mocumentary narrative of Lee's work and life at camp, but clips of her work and training materials are director Jim Finn's real playground - he gets to toy with the meaning of video, propaganda and language - all with an occasionally interesting concoction of real archival propaganda (North Korean and Voice of America) mixed into work that's at least two steps (fictional Lee is shooting fictional films) removed from reality. The Juche Idea includes some humor, particularly in scenes featuring the use of Oleg, who can't really speak English at all, to demonstrate capitalist and socialist English.
A segment of the audience laughed out loud at the humorous moments. Sadly, I was not in that segment. After investing several minutes getting interested in Lee's story, getting a feel for when we were shifting from mocumentary to video project and back and starting to think about what it all meant, I was just too tired to mine the humor in fractured English ironic propaganda. The film festivals love The Juche Idea, but I would have fared better with more story - take that mocumentary to the finish line Mr. Finn, what ever happened to Lee? - and more structure -themes like what are video, language, art and propaganda work better for me in small doses. Let me move through 1.01 then add 1.02, not start at 1.77.5. with multiple, fragmentary graduate level messages.
One bright spot was nearly enough to overcome the pain of reading both a left hand column of Juche philosophy and a bottom of the frame subtitle at the same time. Daniela Kostova (pictured above), a real life artist from Russia via NY, plays a Bulgarian artist who mentors Lee at camp. Kostova is so scarily adept at keeping Lee on the Worker's path that there is no doubt she could run a socialist labor camp by day and take over the New School's adult ed film class at night. Look for Kostova in anything else, maybe this role will launch a new career. See, or rent, The Juche Idea only if you need material to discuss with film fanatics - this could be a campus cult classic for a while.