Going Beyond Fatherly Love
Where other recent filmic works on North Korea have satirized the more absurd facets of the country’s jingoistic propaganda, American-based, South Korean-born director Soon-mi YOO takes North Korean popular culture – its patriotic songs, plays and now-notorious film industry – at face value. In her debut feature, the essay film Songs from the North, she seeks to explore the roots and ramifications of the political psychology of an insular nation that persists in relating to its leader as a child does to his or her father. (This is a country where even the karaoke songs are about the Great Leader’s love.) In the line of essay films from the like of Chris Marker and Andrei Ujica, Songs from the North interweaves poorly dubbed footage from North Korean television, news reports and big-screen cinematic epics with material shot by YOO on the ground, accomplished with a deft touch that resists privileging one form above the others.
Over three trips to North Korea from 2010-12, the director discovered a lonely country obsessed with the dangers of reunification, living constantly under the burden of nationalistic myths, forged from the mid-20th-century legacy of armed struggle and colonial suffering. But she also found people of all ages living with dignity and expressing genuine emotion in public, with respect to their nation’s suffering. (The litany of bawling children as broadcast in a televised play, well, you can judge for yourselves.) Of course, she was restricted as to what and where she could film, and thus supplemented this footage with the aforementioned examples of popular culture, especially the songs, that help in a way to give meaning to the fleeting glimpses we are given of the day-to-day life in the hermit state, and perhaps explain what gives a modicum of warmth to the North Korean heart.
«...the revolutionary state of North Korea was born out of songs - the songs the country’s founding leader sang in his arduous march to National Liberation - and these songs are the soul and pulse beats of the Kim Il Sung generation.»