The second feature-length documentary by Spanish filmmaker Alvaro Longoria, The Propanganda Game seeks to examine the use of propaganda upon a populace by its overseers – utilising the ominous and totalitarian state of North Korea to this end. That it quickly trips over its mandate into an examination of PR and indoctrination is unfortunate, but that it’s so damn entertaining at least softens the blow. The real success of Longoria’s film however is also its least expected card to play – chiefly the introduction of Alejandro Cao do Benós. Alejandro, as you will come to know him, is the only foreigner in the employ of the North Korean government; and, funnily enough, The Propaganda Game’s breakout star.
While Longoria’s film adds little elsewhere to our collective knowledge of the DPRK, his almost incidental framing of Alejandro as the film’s central figure proves a great success. Far from some brainwashed minion and more an out-and-out true believer, he’s a fascinating figure; an engaging and unlikely representative for Kim Jong-un’s regime whose company you’ll almost feel ashamed for enjoying as much as you do.
The Propaganda Game may lose its central point early on (a tacked-on closing voiceover fails to properly reign proceedings back in) but it’s not without its moments of pathos. Establishing early on that the voice of North Korean citizens is of far more worth than their rulers, Longoria isn’t afraid to probe rather bluntly into somewhat uncomfortable areas. The Interview, for example, is not so much name-checked as made the subject of Alejandro’s unfiltered rage; and, to his credit, Longoria doesn’t miss a trick in framing the nation’s widespread indoctrination along the lines of Alex Gibney’s recent Scientology doc Going Clear.
The film does surprisingly offer a bevy of previously unseen aspects of North Korean society; including aspects of the female side of life which, while not entirely groundbreaking, make for something approaching refreshing. Elsewhere, The Propaganda Game ultimately curtails – for better or worse – to the personal leanings of Longoria himself; evidently a requisite media-friendly libertarian here given a soapbox. Though his pseudo-philosophical voiceover musings can occasionally become faintly tiresome, they are at least complimented with dabs of humour and insight (Longoria admits, for example, that after five days, he can feel himself swaying to the North Korean mindset). Still, Werner Herzog is far from the skill level of Longoria’s repertoire; yet The Propaganda Game manages to hold interest and engage well enough for that to never really become a problem. Not a game-changer so much as an enjoyable go-around, it’s an interesting enough hundred minute distraction. And if nothing else, it’s far more entertaining than The Interview.
The Propaganda Game is in cinemas nationwide from Friday, February 26th; rated 15. Check out the trailer below.