This browser is supported only in Windows 10 and above.

DID YOU READ

“The Red Chapel”: Looking for comedy in the North Korean world.

“The Red Chapel”: Looking for comedy in the North Korean world. (photo)

Posted by on

Reviewed at the 2010 SXSW Film Festival.

A confession: I’ve passed over “The Red Chapel” before. It’s been making film festival rounds since the fall of last year. I’d glance over the description — “small theater troupe,” “Denmark,” “cultural exchange visit,” “North Korea” — and I’d imagine… actually, I don’t know what I’d imagine, but it wasn’t promising.

Well, mea culpa. This Danish documentary is incredibly uncomfortably funny, like a love child of “The Idiots” (it’s the product of Lars von Trier’s Zentropa Productions) and “Borat” that managed to grow a complicated political conscience. And it is, indeed, about a small theater troupe from Denmark who go to North Korea on a cultural exchange visit. Sort of.

Director Mads Brügger, who also narrates and appears on camera, wanted to make a film about the DPRK’s terrible conditions — to, in his words, “expose the very core of the evilness of North Korea.” Except the only way you can get permission to shoot there is to convince the government, who’ll be escorting and watching you closely the entire time, that you have only its best interests in mind. And so Brügger came up with bait, inventing the Red Chapel theater group, comprised of him and two Korean young men who were adopted and raised in Denmark: Simon Jul, burly, sardonic and tattooed; and there’s Jacob Nossell, who’s handicapped — “spastic,” as he puts — and whose speech defects mean that he’s the only one who speaks his mind of camera, since the secret police, who surveyed the footage shot each night, apparently couldn’t understand his nonstandard Danish. Mads sees the pair as an irresistible PR lure — two Koreans who, wanting to reconnect with their roots, choose Pyongyang over Seoul.

03132010_theredchapel3.jpgIt works, even though the show they audition in front of stern officials is a wretched jumble of slapstick, drag, tap dance and an acoustic rendition of “Wonderwall,” and soon the three are being given a propaganda-filled tour of schools filled with perfect children doing music performances and creekside picnics attended by pretty girls. The flawlessly rehearsed surfaces and fixed smiles are, as Jacob puts it, fucking creepy, but in the face of everything the three men manage some inspired stunts of deadpan comedy. On a trip to the Joint Security Area, Simon solemnly walks around a conference table in order to have gotten a chance to set foot in South Korea, land of his birth. Mads convinces their escort, Mrs. Pak, to allow him to read a poem in front of the statue of Kim Il-Sung, to which all visiting foreigners are required to pay homage. He claims it’s by a famous Danish worker’s rights writer. It’s not. It goes as follows: “Love is like a pineapple / Sweet and undefinable.”

But the terrible grip that the Dear Leader has over the nation really repels any external application of irony, and as Mads’ plan to essentially prank one of the world’s most notorious totalitarian dictatorships starts to seem a little smug, Jacob starts calling him on that very fact. How can planned absurdity compete with the surreal, stupefying sight of thousands of people being used, as Mads himself puts it, as human pixels in a portrait of their repressive despot? There are serious food shortages, thousands of people are being kept in detention camps, and the rest are trying to carve out the best situation for themselves possible, and trying just as hard to convince themselves they’re really happy about it, because they haven’t exactly been offered an array of other options. Jacob, who likely wouldn’t have made it to adulthood if he’d been born in the DPRK, ends up offering the most empathetic viewpoint in the film, a richer and more satisfying one than, it seemed, was “The Red Chapel”‘s original intent. Regimes can be evil — people are far more complicated.

“The Red Chapel” currently has no U.S. distribution.

[Photos: “The Red Chapel,” Zentropa Productions, 2009]

IFC_Portlandia-S8_best-of-skits_subaru-blog

The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

Posted by on

The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

IFC_Portlandia-S8_pick-a-lane_subaru-blog

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

Posted by on

Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

Uncle-Buck

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

Posted by on
GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…