Spanish filmmaker Álvaro Longoria sets out to take a look into the hermit country of North Korea, with the help of fellow Spaniard and seemingly self proclaimed Spanish Special Delegate of North Korea’s Committee for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries, Alejandro Cao de Benós. While there, Longoria tries to dissect the truth from the propaganda, and find out what life is actually like in North Korea, but he soon learns that all is not black and white.
A year after Dennis Rodman’s Big Bang in Pyongyang screened at the then Jameson Dublin International Film Festival, the festival – now title sponsored by Audi – takes another look behind the secretive borders of North Korea to try and discern the truth about what goes on behind closed walls.
There is little doubt that the subject matter of Álvaro Longoria’s film is one that is going to fascinate audiences around the world, but the film gets so caught up in the us against them politics of North Korea’s relationship with the rest of the world that it quickly loses focus. Longoria was allowed into North Korea on condition that he and his team never venture out alone and stick to their itinerary. If they did so, then they were allowed to interview anyone they want.
In order to back up the idea that North Korea is flat out lying to its citizens, Longoria interviews what seems like hundreds of people for the film; journalists, UN officials and North Korean defectors all get to give their two cents, and these are then contrasted with the so called facts that Longoria is told by tour guides, people on the street and Alejandro Cao de Benós. There is obviously a stark difference between the two sides, but this message gets a little confused and lost with the sheer number of interviewees used on screen.
Far more interesting is Longoria’s actual experiences in North Korea, that all have the distinct feeling of being staged. Funfairs, roller skating parks, water parks and museums abound, but they seem oddly crowded in comparison to the streets, or eerily empty. One particular moment of the film stands out; when Longoria asks to be taken to a Christian Church. Mass is celebrated without communion being given, everyone sings a little too well and none of them wear the ubiquitous pins that celebrate Kim Jong-un. Sadly, Longoria’s experiences in the country only make up a small portion of the film – maybe he was not permitted to film as much as he would have liked. This then means that the film turns into a discussion on propaganda, which gets a little caught up in the politics, rather than dissecting the messages being given out by both sides. What does stand out, however, is the continuous assertion by Alejandro Cao de Benós and others, that the world looks to North Korea as an example, and celebrate their leaders on North Korean national holidays, which is less an exaggeration than an all out lie.
In all, The Propaganda Game gets a little too caught up in politics, and with dozens of interviewees, feels a little scattered and cluttered. There is very little new information discovered in the film, and certainly Longoria does not get to see anything in North Korea that could paint the country in a negative light, although not for the want of trying, since he continually asks questions about the regulation haircuts, the food, what people have in their fridges, and whether people are happy, but to no avail. The most interesting “character” in The Propaganda Game is Alejandro Cao de Benós, but sadly the only knowledge we get of him is the propaganda he spouts.