If Madame B had a Facebook page, she’d have to choose the “it’s complicated” option for sure. I felt sympathy and sadness as I learned more about her story.
Poverty, politics, distance, dictatorship, love, loneliness, children – any one one of those things could make a life more complicated, but what if you stir them all together? And what if the things you want now are not the same things you thought you wanted yesterday?
When Madame B was planning her escape from North Korea to China, she thought that she would work there for about one year, then return to her husband and two sons with the money she had earned.
Things didn’t work out like that. The people who smuggled her out of North Korea sold her to a poor, elderly Chinese couple, to work on their farm and be a wife to one of their four sons. (The parents explain that they could not afford a Chinese wife for all of their sons. I did wonder about the famous “one-child policy,” but it was only introduced in 1980 and there were many exceptions, too.)
Madame B accepted that situation as a temporary thing, with running away as her backup plan. In time she came to realize that her new (common-law) husband was a pretty decent guy; she grew fond of her in-laws too, and vice versa. When we meet her, she has been part of this Chinese family for nine years.
All the same, Madame B. is not happy with the status quo and she hatches a new plan that will see her, her sons, her Chinese husband and her North Korean ex- husband all living a better life in South Korea. It seems that all that could be possible with enough time, money and the right connections. (I don’t know if Madame B.. is legally divorced from her North Korean husband, but it is clear from watching the film that, in her mind and heart, he is definitely an “ex,” it’s all over between them, whether he likes it or not.)
She will go south first, and once she has been given identity papers and an apartment, she will then officially marry her Chinese husband and bring him in as a foreign spouse.
I don’t want to spell out all the twisty turny details of the film (there are lots of them, but you should see them for yourself), but the voyage from China to Seoul, in cars, buses, trucks, and on foot, is tremendously long and convoluted – imagine travelling from Montreal to Los Angeles, or maybe Mexico City, when your ultimate destination is actually New York. The filmmaker, Jero Yun, made that trip with Madame B. and her fellow escapees.
There are surprises, unexpected setbacks, resentment, stubborness and other bad feelings. On top of that, it seems that South Korean security agents assume that all defectors are North Korean spies unless they can prove otherwise. A cloud of suspicion still hangs over Madame B, her sons and her ex, even though they were interrogated many times and passed lie detector tests.
Many people in China and North Korea probably think that life would be wonderful and all their problems would disappear if only they could get into South Korea. This film shows that things are not that simple, that no matter how hopeful or resourceful people might be, the deck is truly stacked against them.
Read more about the film and buy tickets online on the web site of the RIDM film festival.
Mrs. B. A North-Korean Woman (Madame B. histoire d’une Nord-Coréenne)
Country : France
Year : 2015
V.O : Korean, Cantonese
Subtitles : French, English
Duration : 70 Min
Director: Jero Yun
Cinematography : Jero Yun, Tawan Arun
Editing : Nadia Ben Rachid, Pauline Casalis, Sophie Pouleau, Jean-Marie Lengelle
Production : Guillaume De La Boulaye, Jae Keun Cha
Sound Design : Jero Yun, Tawan Arun
See Mrs. B. A North-Korean Woman (Madame B. histoire d’une Nord-Coréenne) Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016 at 2:30 p.m., Pavillon Judith Jasmin Annexe – Salle Jean-Claude Lauzon (the former NFB/ONF, 1564 St. Denis)
Screening presented with French subtitles