Here's a documentary so astonishing that, for a time, I was convinced that I was being had -- that no sane filmmakers would ever attempt, much less pull off, anything this crazy. The Internet assures me that Mads Brügger and Johan Stahl's The Red Chapel, which won the Documentary Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, is very real indeed: that Brügger and a pair of comedian friends really did sneak into North Korea pretending to be a pro-Socialist vaudeville troupe there to engage in cultural exchange with local schoolchildren, that they really did get most of it on tape, and that they really did escape that fascist hellhole with life and limb intact. In the process, they've made a film equal parts horrifying, exhilarating and hilarious -- an epic prank on the world's most sinister dictatorship that makes Sacha Baron Cohen look like a shrinking violet in comparison.

I have an abiding fascination with North Korea, or, as it is more affectionately known, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). I think it was Christopher Hitchens who once wrote that the reason George Orwell's writing remains relevant today is that the word "Orwellian" is the only accurate descriptor of the North Korean regime -- its complete intolerance of independent thought, the elaborate false reality painstakingly constructed for its citizens, the personality cult of the Dear Leader at its center. Never mind that, as The Red Chapel informs us, the Dear Leader is personally responsible for starving countless of his own people.
categories Cinematical