It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
The view of North Korea presented in the faux-documentary “Under the Sun” has such a tinge of the surreal it almost seems that David Lynch must have had an uncredited hand in the film. But if Russian director Vitaly Mansky needed any help, he inadvertently got more than he could have dreamed of from the North Korean authorities, ironically enough.
The film’s background no doubt would have made a killer documentary itself. Reportedly, Mansky got the North Koreans’ agreement to make a film about their secretive society, but with the proviso that they would write the story, provide the actors and generally supervise everything. The only thing they forgot to control, it seems, was the editing, which allowed Mansky to leave the country and assemble a film that at once presents and mocks the cheery vision of their nation that the North Koreans intended.
Mansky’s minders, endeavoring to make a film that appeared to be a documentary, set up a fictional construct from the get-go. Their scenario centers on an eight-year-old girl named Lee Zin-mi, who lives with her parents in Pyongyang. All three characters are evidently as close to air-brushed ideals as real life would provide. Zin-mi is cute, bubbly and always happy. Her parents, perfect Communist workers, dote on their child and obviously enjoy the spotless apartment that has been provided them for the shoot.
With everything we see so beautiful, clean and bright, the fakery is blatant from the outset, and Mansky gleefully stresses it by including his minders’ off-camera instructions to their cast members. When we see the ideal factory where Zin-mi’s mom works and her team always far surpasses their quotas, the movie’s de facto directors urge the workers to express themselves “more joyfully!”