By Shikhar Verma
I spent around 70 minutes with Mrs. B. During this duration, I lived with her two families and got to know about two decades of her lifetime. I still don’t know her name but as the documentary came to an end, I felt worried for her fate. When a person is split between two things – both of which are equally important, what does one do? I hope singing about one’s sorrow and inhibition helps.
Jero Yun’s documentary ‘Mrs. B., A North Korean Woman’, opens with a chaotic sequence in a car of what seems like an ongoing human trafficking scene. The hand-held camera pans around Mrs. B and her convincing act soon cuts off to a low-class household on the countryside. Mrs. B is a middle-aged woman who kicks-off her scooter like a pro and makes money out of illegally moving people across the borders of China into Korea.
Mrs. B’s story transverses a couple of times through the entire duration. It starts off as an account of a strong, self-dependent woman hankering to the needs of a household that ‘bought her off’ to be married to their somewhat mentally challenged son. She even confesses selling meth & girls to local buyers. It then features an interlude where Mrs. B, along with a few other North-Korean women crisscrosses the China border leading to Bangkok. Further jumping 2 years to account her life with her two sons & ex-husband in South Korea.
Jero Yun’s film initially feels like those hard-hitting documentaries about refugees and human trafficking. But to my surprise, it presents a very human picture of either. Mrs. B, in the conventional sense of things, is a criminal who illegally smuggled herself in order to be reunited with her sons. Hence, the human-trafficking narrative takes a back seat and the film’s complete focus sets onto Mrs. B’s life as a woman who is left delusional when she recounts her life in Seoul.
From a technical point of view, the documentary is pretty well prepped. A France-Korean co-production and a premier at Cannes’ ACID sidebar ensures the film will have a good festival run. It also echoes with the cumulative Chinese and Korean society and having a well-shot footage that runs universally throughout, makes it one of those films that is anti-propaganda all the way. Jero Yun has included an audio clip of a 12 years old girl spouting Korean war propaganda to use as a clever counterfeit to his wobbly narrative.
The film feels fragmented and distilled of its aim at times, which made me feel that Jero Yun was never exactly sure what he wanted to depict until it turned into a portrait of a complex woman. Through the film, he conveys a scorching truth about individuals who are distanced away from their rightful home. At times, due to situations, and the other times due to a failure to foresee the future. ‘Mrs. B., A North Korean Woman’ depicts both of these aspects, leaving us with a woman who we deeply want to get through the problems in life that sicken her. We desperately wish for her to reach a place in her life that truly feels like ‘home’ to her.