Movie Review: Vancouver International Film Festival – Pretension Abounds!

The Vancouver International Film Festival is exactly like the Toronto International Film Festival, but without the parties, celebrities, or good movies. However, to hear a Vancouverite tell it, our festival is one of the most interesting in the world. It is, if your definition of interesting is “pretentious indie-art house film about the mating habits of Indonesian tree frogs that I’m going to go on and on about at work the next day just so that I can prove that I’m more cultured than the people I work with even though I would have killed my grandmother for a plane ticket to Toronto so that I could see Natalie Portman make out with that chick from That 70’s Show”. 

But I digress. In actuality, VIFF does usually have some very good films. But they’re often peppered among some very bad films, and I find that most of my VIFF scorecards look something like this: I see one or two truly great movies, four or five decent movies, three or four really bad movies, and at least one movie that is so horrifically disturbing that I start to question my own sanity. Usually it’s Japanese. Or directed by Lars Von Trier.  I then tell people that that movie was good, and then just tell them that “they just didn’t get what the director was trying to say” if they say they didn’t like it.  

 I’ll be blogging about my VIFF experiences over the next few weeks, starting with:

 Red Chapel. Directed by Mads Brugger.

 Red Chapel is one of those documentaries whose core premise is so sound, that you can’t believe no one has done it before. Mads Brugger is a Danish journalist who organizes a “cultural exchange” with North Korea which is comprised entirely of two Danish-Korean comedians jumping around a stage like a bunch of idiots. His true motivations are far less pure than putting on a talent show however, and it becomes obvious early on that Brugger is trying to subvert North Korea’s propaganda machine in his own small way, and that he’s not afraid to manipulate his young charges in doing so.

Mads Bruggers subverts through insincerity.

To his credit, Brugger resists the urge to put himself above his subject matter, and admits quite readily that all he’s interested in is furthering his own agenda. And so he’s happy to use the developmentally disabled comedian Jacob Nossell to try to bait his North Korean hosts to display their own prejudices, but he’s also ready to demonize the tragically sad Mrs. Pak (the group’s translator and government watchdog) as a willing puppet in Kim Jong Il’s national power play.

 If there’s a message here it’s the one that Nossell himself admits to learning during his trip: There’s always two sides to every story. One person’s totalitarian dictatorship is another’s socialist paradise, though one where you have a gun pointed to your head all the time and your diet consists of a bowl of rice every other week. 

What Red Chapel lacks in technical sophistication it makes up for in heart, and guts.  Due to the limitations of filming in North Korea, we get an extremely narrow, one sided view of what is happening there, though one with plenty of context and commentary from both the Danish talent as well as their kind, yet guarded Korean hosts. While I can’t say that this was a “must-watch” documentary, it’s one that I enjoyed for the most part, and is definitely worth your time.

 Rating: B-

(Originally posted on at

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s