The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), more commonly known in the West as North Korea, has recently dominated international headlines with its nuclear ambitions and the detention of two American reporters, yet everyday life there remains virtually invisible to North Americans. A Schoolgirl’s Diary provides a remarkably lucid window into the realities of the social fabric and cinematic culture of contemporary DPRK.
Su-Ryeon, a typical teenager, lives in the countryside with her librarian mother, a sister who’s a rising soccer star, and her loving grandmother, who prepares food for the family and helps keep house. Her father, a researcher committed to his country and to science, spends very little time with his children, as his work always takes him far from home. Longing for a modern lifestyle, Su-Ryeon is caught between her loyalty to family and her own personal ambitions.
A distinct departure from earlier national productions such as Pulgasari and Urban Girl Comes to Get Married, where the heroines are absolute in their loyalty to time-honoured traditions, A Schoolgirl’s Diary focuses on modern-day issues and social pressures relevant to modern youth in the DPRK. Marked by a ’70s aesthetic, it also offers a charming portrait of the country with upbeat singalongs, cheerful soccer games and neighbours doing good deeds. At the same time, the film presents more serious elements such as commercial branding, new technologies and foreign-language studies alongside traditional values of commitment to family and state.
This rare screening reveals an insight into the future of an isolated nation in an increasingly globalized world. This joint presentation of Reel Asian and Koryo Tours Canada is part of the North Korean film series Visions of the Workers Paradise!, featuring films and discussions about one of the world’s least-understood nations.
— Christopher Graper and Heather Keung