|'a serviceable doc that wobbles around interestingly without ever really telling us anything concrete'|
The Propaganda Game has a J.J. Abrams-esque mystery box to offer viewers. Allowed in to North Korea, and to film there, filmmaker Álvaro Longoria promises to peel back the curtain. What propaganda is fed to the citizens? What is produced for the western world, particularly near-neighbour South Korea? What is the truth behind the secretive state? As one contributor puts it: North Korea is so interesting to all of us because 'there are not many real mysteries left in the world'. How can you resist.
That becomes a question too for Longoria, who produces a serviceable doc that wobbles around interestingly without ever really telling us anything concrete. On the one hand, the director seems keen to get to the heart of the matter (just how bad are things there?). On the other, he seems to want to give the country a fair crack. You've got to admire his dedication to balance, but you do suspect that an Alex Gibney would have little truck with the positive points of a country steeped in human rights abuses. There is an argument that the 'game' is with Longoria, played by his handlers and that, by the end, he has largely lost.
Still, the director gives a good and full account of the extent of the (mis)education programme the North Korean regime feeds to its citizens. The film takes in sights and conversations around Pyongyang with individuals who seem at least partially free to speak to the filmmaker and he is granted access to sights such as empty luxury hotels on the one hand and a border meeting point with the South on the other hand. The latter is a tense and unique scene.
Supplemented by expert contributors who provide the context, the final word on The Propaganda Game is that it is a worthwhile ninety-eight minutes for the curious who seek pictures, but no answers. Perhaps it is unfair to expect too much more. This is, after all, a secretive state that shuns outsiders, though perhaps one of the film's funnest revelations is that there is a Spainard, Alejandro Cao de Benós de Les y Pérez, at the heart of the Pyongyang communist party, helping to dictate policy and direction. What else must the mystery box hold.
The Propaganda Game was streaming on Netflix.