THE RED CHAPEL

Filmmaker Mads Brügger; photo credit: Adam Schartoff (c) 2010

While I was attending all those press conferences at MoMA and Lincoln Center for the New Directors/New Films series a couple of weeks ago, I missed a small number of entrees. With the permission of the publicist, I went to the public screening of one of them, “The Red Chapel”, a documentary by the Danish filmmaker, Mads Brügger. A remarkable work: Brügger brings two young men both born in North Korea but adopted to Danish families at birth. One, Simon Jul, is a fairly well known comic, known as the Danish John Belushi, given his beefy physique. The other, a wheel-chair bound self-labeled spastic, is named Jacob Nossell. Director Brügger introduced the two and sold them on the idea of traveling to Pyongyang to put on a series of slapstick comedy routines for various audiences. It’s all pretext, of course, for the director’s larger plan, which is to aim the spotlight directly at the DPRK, a terrifyingly oppressive police state under the harsh rule of its Dear Leader, Kim Jong-il.

Under the watchful eye of their assigned chaperone, Mrs. Pak, the film maker puts one over on everyone. But not without a price. The emotionally fragile Jacob has a very hard time with the masquerade and is overwhelmed by the attention lavished on him by the hordes of perfectly manicured and behaving citizens who treat the guests like they walk on water. Only the whole adventure is out of some “Stepford Wives” meets . Jacob doesn’t know where to put all his emotions and has a breakdown of sorts. His confusion and pain only make the ambitious director seem all the more contemptible. To cast himself in this light is his saving grace. At the Q&A I attended after the screening, he was quite straight about his motives. He very clearly said that any conflicts he might have caused were worth it in the end. He was also wise to mention that Mrs. Pak was not thought to be in on the conspiracy, having been aware of the film makers’ ruse would have had mortal consequences for her. Apparently, all guests of North Korea are assigned a chaperone, and the chaperone is assigned a second point person always present. This way no one can succumb to the wiles of any capitalist visitors.

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