Moranbong: Following French Intellectuals to North Korea in 1958

Frame from the French-North Korean film production of “Moranbong,” c. 1958. Image courtesy National Museum of Singapore

As I’ve completed a long article on the subject of Sino-French relations in the mid-1950s with a focus on the 1955 journey of Simone de Beauvoir to the People’s Republic of China, the following press release, sent by Benjamin Joinau, interests me quite a bit: 

Re: Antoine Coppola’s “Cine-voyage en Coree du Nord”
L’Atelier des Cahiers [link] introduces its latest publication about the fascinating trip of French intellectuals to North Korea in 1958: Chris Marker, Claude Lanzmann, Armand Gatti, Jean-Claude Bonnardot, Francis Lemarque – all of them were to become famous later. Marker brought back his unique photo book “Les Coreennes”, Lanzmann a broken heart after a short love affair with a North Korean nurse, Gatti and Bonnardot the first and only North Korean-French co-produced movie: “Moranbong”…
This book follows their journey in North Korea while assessing the historical context, then proposes a detailed analysis of the movie.

Résumé/présentation — Nous sommes en mai 1958, un groupe d’intellectuels français s’embarque à bord d’un avion en direction de Pyongyang via Moscou. À son bord, des hommes en quête d’horizons nouveaux : Armand Gatti, journaliste, futur cinéaste et dramaturge ; Chris Marker, écrivain-cinéaste; Jean-Claude Bonnardot, acteur-cinéaste ; Francis Lemarque, chansonnier, et Claude Lanzmann, rédacteur-philosophe aux Temps Modernes de Sartre et Beauvoir, et futur maître du documentaire moderne. Gatti et Bonnardot ramèneront de cette expédition un film unique en son genre Moranbong, un film à part, insoluble dans le réalisme socialiste stalinien, trou noir dans l’histoire du cinéma français, une comète chargée de toutes les interrogations et contradictions d’une époque, en Corée du Nord comme en France. Chris Marker ramènera un album de photographies commentées qui fera date (Coréennes), Lemarque, des vues éparses filmées au cours du séjour, et Lanzmann, une histoire belle et triste d’amour impossible qu’il relatera dans ses mémoires (Le Lièvre de Patagonie). Le nord de la Corée est alors sous le contrôle de Kim Il-sung, fondateur d’une république dite populaire alliée de l’URSS et de la Chine.

The book runs about 18€, according to a press release which includes a short interview with the author.  Chris Marker’s work in North Korea is described further here.

For more on the “Moranbong” film mentioned, an article by the French-North Korean Friendship Association gives essential background; the film was most recently screened at the National Museum of Singapore in an exhibition entitled “Visions of East: Asia through French Eyes.”

I’ll be in Paris in a couple weeks to pick up a copy and will endeavour to write at least a short summary/review in this space or on that other space for DPRK analysis, SinoNK.com.

5 thoughts on “Moranbong: Following French Intellectuals to North Korea in 1958

  1. Did you ever get your hands on a copy of the film? Mark Morris spoke about it at a recent conference at SOAS (1 June 2013). He only had time to show a couple of minutes of footage from it. But tantalisingly he had a DVD of the complete film, helpfully subtitled (in French)

    1. No, I didn’t, but I did note that this would be discussed at the conference. I spent an afternoon in December banging around 5th arrondissement looking for the book, didn’t dig it up then, but should make another effort before summer is out. You were at the SOAS conference, then? Looked rather interesting, quite a rich array of material.

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