Like the creepy neighbours in a horror movie who never leave the house and make weird banging noises in the cellar, North Korea has become a source of furtive fascination for much of the world. Intrigued by increasingly bizarre rumours (unicorns! Mandatory haircuts! Execution by wild dog!), documentary-maker Álvaro Longoria wrote to the country’s government asking for permission to film there. After several years, consent finally arrived courtesy of fellow Spaniard Alejandro Cao de Benós, the only foreign official employed by the North Korean administration, and an enthusiastic proponent of Kim Jong Un and all his works.
Aware that every foreign visitor emerges from North Korea with the feeling that their trip has been painstakingly stage-managed, Longoria set out determined to get at least a fleeting glimpse of the ‘real’ nation. He never really succeeds, which makes for an interesting but never exactly gripping doc. But what his film does demonstrate, through interviews with UN officials, Amnesty workers and CNN journalists, is that propaganda is a game two can play – and the Western powers are every bit as practiced at it as Kim and his cronies.