In Another Country (2012)

In Another Country (2012)
English and Korean with English subtitles.
Isabelle Huppert, Yoo Jun-sang, Kwon Hae-hyo, Moon So-ri, and Jung Yoo-mi. Written and directed by Hong Sang-soo.

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A French woman who speaks no Korean. A young woman who manages a bed-and-breakfast. A married couple expecting a first child. A muscular but air-headed lifeguard. A coastal Korean town, some soju, a lighthouse, and the line, “You have to be careful with that kind of Korean man.” These are the ingredients, presented three times, in three separate stories of Hong Sang-soo’s first English-language film, In Another Country, a fun, mostly light-hearted actors’ exploration of setting, character, and language.

Isabelle Huppert stars as three different women named Anne: first a famous French film director, then a woman seeking time with a man who is not her husband, and finally a divorcee whose husband has left her for a young Korean secretary. In each story, set in the same town with roughly the same supporting actors, the French visitor has a different reason for visiting, and the surrounding characters provide different responses to her presence. Not exactly a character study, the film feels more like the result of an improvisation workshop where actors are given a rough skeleton of a plot and multiple chances to play it out, turning the best stuff into a movie script.

1Unlike most films I’ve seen with similar structure, In Another Country is consistently interesting and engaging. Anne’s effort to express herself in the English that most of the other characters have only a basic grasp of feels genuine, and while a spirit of goodwill permeates most of the film’s mood, there are underlying currents of suspicion and mistrust, in doses small enough not to veer off into intrigue but present enough to give certain scenes a healthy tension.

There is a strong mumblecore sensibility to Hong’s approach. A musical score is used extremely sparingly, and only as a transition from one scene to another. Dialogue is sometimes drowned out by ambient noises, such as the sounds of footsteps crunching on gravel, or a sudden gust of wind making that blowing sound we always hear in film clips shot with our smartphones or camcorders. The use of the ambient sound as part of the film, and not something to be mixed down or processed out, is one of my favorite things about this movie; I love the way it creates the voyeuristic illusion of detachment and intimacy with these interesting characters. Camera movement is mostly unremarkable, but there are a few scenes where jerky zoom-ins create the effect of our spying on these characters’ conversations.

3One film-making decision I disagree with is the sequencing of the three stories. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the third Anne character is perhaps not quite as likable as the first two, and since she is the main character, it seems weird not to let us leave her in her most positive light, unless the film is trying to make a less-than-admiring statement about European women in Korea. If this is the case, it’s an even worse decision because the rest of the script does little to support such a thesis.

The film really succeeds on Huppert’s gentle, graceful performance. Even in scenes where she tries awkwardly to help someone understand what she means by “lighthouse,” there is a pleasant lack of urgency in her delivery, and her confident acting serves the other actors well as they revolve around her and respond to her. At her most appealing, she is a glowing, laughing presence among friends, believably magnetic among others, and someone impossible to look away from in a most enjoyable movie.

8/10
81/100

1 Response to “In Another Country (2012)”


  1. Arlyn

    Arlyn

    In Another Country
    74/100

    I saw this at the AFI Film Festival in November. Also, I’ve seen one other film by Hong Sang-soo, Night and Day (2008), a Korean language film taking place in Paris.

    …in three separate stories of Hong Sang-soo’s first English-language film, In Another Country, a fun, mostly light-hearted actors’ exploration of setting, character, and language.

    On the exploration of language, I thought about how one would go about directing a film where the dialogue wasn’t in his first language, mainly thinking about how he’d be able distinguish the tone of the delivery or emotions of the actors, not to mention that some of the actors were speaking mainly in English which I think is a second language for them. This is both intriguing and impressive.

    The use of the ambient sound as part of the film, and not something to be mixed down or processed out, is one of my favorite things about this movie.

    Good point. It’s been a couple of months but it’s coming back to me. I’m flashing back to Huppert’s “crunching on gravel” with her huge bag (she’s so tiny!) and umbrella as she explores the town.

    One film-making decision I disagree with is the sequencing of the three stories.

    I remember liking the third story the least too. True they should have ended with one of the better stories. I liked the older Korean woman a lot in one of the stories but I’m not remembering which. I’m referring to the scene where she told an amusing story while they were gathered around the dinner table outside but I don’t remember what the conversation was about.

    I love the way it creates the voyeuristic illusion of detachment and intimacy with these interesting characters.

    I felt this “voyeuristic illusion”, like we were peering into and at the same time were a part of what felt like experimental filmmaking and “improvisation workshop.” I liked this feel to the film and this “intimacy” with the very likeable characters, especially Huppert.

    Mitchell

    SPOILERS FOR IN ANOTHER COUNTRY

    Why do you think the film doesn’t circle back around to the frame part of the story, the girl writing the scripts while waiting to see what becomes of her and her mother? I kind of wished it did. It feels a little too open-ended, the way it’s set up.

    In that third story, I thought Anne was terrible; it was tough to like her. She takes the girl’s umbrella. She takes the monk’s pen. She almost kisses someone else’s husband. Do you think she’s a flawed character, or is this awful behavior somehow her way of dealing with being left by her husband? I wonder if this is even worth thinking about.

    I’m glad you liked it too.

    Arlyn

    I never really thought about why they chose to end it with the third story. But now that I think about it, the way it ended had a bigger impact than I thought. She was definitely flawed and although the third Anne was unlikeable, Huppert did a good job at these three interpretations of Anne. Actually I had forgotten about this script part. I assumed it was experimental and didn’t bother to question why it felt open-ended like you mentioned. If it “circled back” to the girl concluding her thoughts, then maybe it would have had a better finish.

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