October 14th, 2009


Though winter encroaches, our hearts are warmed by an eternal spring!

Although wintry cold has begun chilling our bodies here in Berlin, our hearts are warm this week thanks to... well, thanks to the eternally-blossoming pink flowers and ever-smiling women's faces of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea!

The Asian Women's Film Festival opens in Berlin tomorrow, and Hisae and I will be interleaving its offerings at the Arsenal cinema -- which include a whole section dedicated to classic North Korean films -- with the Tokio-Shibuya season going on at the HAU theatres in Kreuzberg. On several evenings in the course of the next week we'll be shuttling from one to the other, braving lashing wind and rain, but warmed in our hearts by films like The Flower Girl, based on an opera written by Kim Il Sung, the Great Leader, himself.

Here's a song from the film:

As I mentioned in my 7 lies about North Korea piece a couple of years back (a discussion of Christian Kracht and Eva Munz's "coffee table book" of photographs of the DPRK), Germany and Korea -- and specifically the former East Germany and North Korea -- have quite a bit in common. They share an immoderate love for flowers, for standardized folk costumes, and for tightly-choreographed, stirring, collectively-voiced, totally non-funky songs filmed on spectacular mountainsides.

The curator of the Asian Women's Film Festival, Sun-ju Choi, has also helped put together an exhibition currently showing at NGBK in Kreuzberg (and my favourite Berlin art gallery, as it happens, partly because it's an artists' collective). Shared.Divided.United points out more similarities between Germany and Korea: "The two countries were both front-line states in the Cold War – and are at the same time both marked by a history of division. The manifold migration routes between Korea and Germany were characterized by complex inter-relationships and trans-border, frontier-extending activities, which are here for the first time studied against the backdrop of the Cold War. Koreans went as guest workers from South Korea to West Germany (FRG), and as students and orphans from North Korea to East Germany (GDR); East Germans went to North Korea in the overall framework of ‘developmental aid solidarity’; South Koreans in West Germany went in turn to North Korea, and North Koreans in East Germany fled to West Germany."

Works by contemporary artists like Suntag Noh (responsible for the reappropriated North Korean crowd scenes seen here) are displayed alongside historical material at NGBK. There are lots of other Asian nations -- and women directors -- represented at the Asian Women's Film Festival (the film which kicks it off is actually Malaysian), but it's the North Korean films which I expect to enjoy the most, for their otherness, their beyond-the-paleness, their beauty and resolute positivity.

A Bellflower, for instance, hymns the importance of "loyalty, solidarity and commitment to the country" and contains "exhortations to put the common good above personal ambition... a recurrent theme of North Korean society guided by the “Juche” principle of self-reliance."

Let's end with Let's Defend Socialism, a song "from the early 90s about the Korean people's resolve to defend socialism". According to YouTube user DPRKradio, "this song was released shortly after the betrayal of socialism in the former Soviet Union by the traitor Gorbachev."

Like the music, the comments beneath it are harmonious; refreshingly free of the usual OMFG WTF LOL kneejerk Web 2.0 cynicism, this video has inspired YouTube users the world over (but all on the same day) to lift their voices as one and proclaim: "The Democratic People´s Republic of Korea is raising the banner of socialism to new heights in the 21st century under the Songun leadership of KIM JONG IL" and "long live ALL OF THE PEOPLE OF DPRK, HER LEADER KIM JONG II, AND THE BEAUTIFUL VALUES, TRADITIONS  AND CELEBRATION OF LIFE, OF HER PEOPLE"!