I finally caught up with The Red Chapel, Danish filmmaker Mads Brügger‘s acclaimed documentary about a visit paid to Pyongyang in 2007 by the filmmaker in the company of the covert comedy duo of Simon Jul Jørgensen and Jacob Nossell. Brügger was in attendance at the June 24th Los Angeles Film Festival screening, on a night that also happened to be his birthday.
What struck me about the film is that it basically amounts to an upside-down North Korean version of The Producers, with Brügger taking over for previous M.B. namesakes Mel Brooks and Max Bialystock. In the 1968 original and 2005 remake of the Brooks comedy, Zero Mostel and Nathan Lane star respectively as Bialystock, a hapless Broadway producer who intentionally sets about producing a flop entitled Springtime for Hitler.
Similarly, in The Red Chapel, Brügger‘s goal is to put on the worst possible show and he succeeds beyond his wildest dreams, thanks largely to the creative input of a Ministry of Culture official. In North Korea, where the political constraints of a tyrannical dictatorship reduce public artistry to propaganda, there is no choice but to stage endless real-life variations of Springtime for Hitler.
Mel Brooks never made it over to North Korea (except perhaps in bootleg DVD form). But if he did, he would have done well to come away with the concoction put together by Brügger. A pivotal scene involving the unwitting participation of the protagonists in a large outdoor anti-American rally is the equivalent of the penultimate “Springtime” musical number, right down to the endlessly repeated “Heil Hitler!” like salute that is expected from all marchers.
There’s one more thing that ties Brügger and Brooks together. The latter is getting ready to celebrate his 84th birthday on June 28th, just four days after his Danish, Cancer sign counterpart.