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Slovenian art rock meets North Korean authoritarianism in documentary 'Liberation Day'

Slovenian art rock meets North Korean authoritarianism in documentary 'Liberation Day'
Milan Fras, right, of the band Laibach, in the documentary "Liberation Day." (Sundance Now)

The documentary "Liberation Day" is mostly about Slovenian art-rock band Laibach, which for decades has baffled critics with its combination of pop kitsch, avant-garde abrasion and ambiguously ironic fascist iconography. But what makes this film so fascinating — and so unusual — is that it's also about North Korea, which in 2015 unexpectedly invited Laibach to play as part of its 70th anniversary of independence.

"Liberation Day" co-director Morten Traavik steered the stage production for Laibach's North Korean gig and served as the point person for the dozens of bureaucrats who demanded changes in everything from the musical arrangements to the projections behind the band.

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Traavik and co-director Ugis Olte touch a little on the histories of North Korea and Laibach and briefly raise the issue of whether artists legitimize oppressive regimes by accepting their commissions. Mostly, though, this is a fly-on-the-wall doc that sticks close to Laibach and its entourage as they tour Pyongyang and go through the excruciating process of getting nitpicked by censors.

More detail about how this concert came to be — and what it means to both the performers and their patrons — would've made "Liberation Day" more illuminating, at least as a piece of journalism. But there's a subtly meaningful power to what the film actually does: witnessing the awkwardness that ensues when the creatively free try to communicate with people who lack the context to understand unfettered expression.

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Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

Playing: Arena Cinelounge Sunset, Hollywood

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