A Hole in the Iron Curtain

To most of us, North Korean cinema, like North Korea itself, is a blank wall. We assume it’s pure propaganda, generated by a strange clique that portrays itself as gods to its hapless populace. Centre Forward, directed by Pak Chong-song, is a rare example of the real thing. Restored and made available by a travel agency based in Beijing, the drama depicts a would-be soccer player who learns how to subordinate his ego to the benefit of the team. This has been a staple of conformist, militaristic cinema since forever — old Hollywood circa World War II was full of movies about wisecracking nonconformists (Jimmy Cagney, John Garfield) learning to take one for their comrades. Evidently this 1978 film, a great success at home, takes this trope to new heights (although there are no wisecracks or humor of any kind). Its highlight comes when its central figure doggedly shoots 100 consecutive goals. This, his coach tells him, is his “responsibility to your team and the motherland.” More join in: The boy’s mother tells him that “a soccer player should practice so much that he can score a goal with his eyes closed.” His grandmother and sister (the latter active in political musical numbers for the regime) pile on as well. Soccer, dances, even a roller-coaster ride — it’s all to benefit the state and of course the Great Leader, Kim Il-sung, who, the coach tells us, “taught us to make the country a kingdom of sports. Let’s accomplish his teachings by working even harder.”
Thu., June 30, 7:30 p.m., 2011

 
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