directed by Mads Brügger
Mads Brügger is a talent with a penchant for the borderline ludicrous, and the trailer for his newest documentary experiment about the acrimonious diamond trade in Africa (The Ambassador) finds him in the driver seat on yet another nearly preposterous adventure that threatens to fly off the tracks at any given moment. I cannot wait, but we can always journey back a few years for a bit of the hair of the dog to tide us over. I’m talking about Brügger’s compellingly odd and tantalizingly outrageous doc about a glimpse of life in the quarantined nation of North Korea. Unlike the various sterilized and academic contemporary examples (A State of Mind, I’m looking at you in particular), The Red Chapel is at once wacky and poignant in its effort to expose the collective wound beneath the surface of an entire country. The premise: a pair of Korean born, Danish comedians, accompanied by their “manager and show director” (Brügger), travel to North Korea under the guise of performing a variety act and participating in a kind of cultural exchange. The two comedians, Simon Jul and Jacob Nossell, were both adopted from South Korea as children, while Brügger alleges to be a Kim Jong Il sympathizer who advocates for the cause in Europe. Add to the fact the Nossell suffers from spastic paralysis (there have long been stories of North Korean intolerance toward any type of handicap) and the slip slip slippery slope of what Brügger calls “going with the flow” as the trio augments their show to cater to the North Korean palette, and you end up with a mesmerizing look at what happens when two very different worlds meet. The entire documentary is not all genuine, though, for Brügger’s primary aim with his ruse is to undermine the cult of Kim Jong Il and to expose the calamity of a culture built atop a mountain of fear, lies and antisocial behavior. It is intense at times, even surreal, but Brügger’s doc is immensely watchable and disarmingly provocative. The scene in which Mads and Jacob are thrust into a North Korean nationalist display in full bloom is jaw dropping, plain and simple. If you watched the trailer for The Ambassador and are wondering what to make of it, The Red Chapel should be square one.
The trailer for The Ambassador (in case you missed it):