Morten Traavik and Uģis Olte
CPH:DOX, Sydney, Göteborg, Vilnius, Movies That Matter, One World, Docville
A controversial cult rock band from the former Yugoslavia is selected to be the first to play in North Korea.
When it was announced that the North Korean government had invited Slovenian art-rock band Laibach – a group who pushed the edges of good taste with their semi-satiric incorporation of fascist iconography and imagery, even as they perform absurdly aggressive versions of songs from THE SOUND OF MUSIC – the news seemed itself to be the stuff of an Onion headline. Directors Traavik and Olte of course recognize this, and help set up their film with an extended clip of a gleefully incredulous John Oliver’s reaction. Lest the viewer mistakenly believe in the gullibility of North Koreans, the filmmakers include the cringe-worthy greeting offered by a Communist party official on the occasion of the band’s arrival in the country, a speech that denounces Laibach and its association with fascism, particularly at an event meant to celebrate the nation’s liberation from Imperial Japan. Welcome to North Korea… Where the band goes from there is the true subject of this entertaining and insightful film, as it’s never made clear how exactly the concert’s director – none other than the film’s co-director Traavik – managed to convince the regime to proceed with this bizarre plan. Something of a cultural fixer, Traavik has been to North Korea more than a dozen times to arrange other musical performances. Still, as presented here, he and the band seem to have been somewhat ill-prepared, and the pleasure in the film comes in seeing them walk a razor thin line between staying true to their artistic vision and compromising elements of their planning that offends the censors’ sensibilities.