was mostly guys with a whole lot of facial hair. In frat house parlance, the final
Soviet-funded World Youth and Students Festival was a real sausage party. For obvious reasons, the South Korean delegate
made quite an impression on José Luis García.
Since the 1989 Communist youth confab was held in Pyongyang, Lim Sukyung
became a minor media sensation. Decades
later, García tracked down the so-called “Flower of Re-Unification” for the
documentary profile, The Girl from the
screens during the 2013 Korean American Film Festival in New York.
happened to be in Pyongyang by chance, taking his brother’s place in the
Argentine delegation at the last minute.
To his credit, García was quite curious how the Communist youth congress
would address the still fresh massacre in Tiananmen Square. The answer—stony silence, aside from an
impromptu punk rock protest from the Scandinavians—was rather unsatisfying. Then Lim blew into town, ready to decry South
Korea’s restrictions on contact with the North at every public gathering. Fascinated by her, García recorded as many of
her appearances as he could with his consumer video camera. After all, she was one of the few delegates
not trying to look like Che.
with irony, García’s home movies of the Pyongyang get-down are easily the best
part of the film. Frankly, it isn’t even
close. Although García suggests he was
more-or-less apolitical in his youth, he captures all the absurdity and
pretension of international Communism’s last gasp before crashing into the
dustbin of history. One can easily see
how this material could be reworked into a wickedly satirical narrative
the Lim he meets some twenty years later is not particularly interesting to
spend time with and decidedly uncooperative.
Evidently, Lim served a short prison term after returning to the
Republic of Korea and would subsequently suffer a terrible family tragedy, but
she never opens up to García about anything.
As a result, the film’s second two acts are about as illuminating as a
GFTS presents a sharp contrast
between idealized memories and the disappointments of reality, but that does
not exactly make gripping viewing. García
never pushes Lim with obvious questions regarding North Korea famines and labor
camps, but he never really succeeded in getting her to sit for a proper
interview. Thanks to her overt manipulations,
his climatic one-on-one quickly descends into an exercise in futility. García practically bangs his head on the
table out of frustration and most viewers will be tempted to do the same.
Of course, there is no corresponding “Girl from
the North,” because anyone returning to the DPRK after publically criticizing
the country’s militarism would be consigned to a death, along with their entire
family. García probably gets that, but
he was too hung up on getting something—anything—from Lim. Girl
from the South has some fascinating moments, but they are largely
front-loaded. Mainly recommended for
hard-core North Korea watchers, it screens this Saturday (10/26) at the Village
East as part of this year’s KAFFNY.
Labels: Argentine Cinema, Documentary, KAFFNY '13