IN ANOTHER COUNTRY
I am reviewing In Another Country as a genre film, although that is not the only way to read it. On one level, it reads like a spate of films a few years ago that charted the alternate life pathways of its central characters with the likes of Smoking/No Smoking (1993), Sliding Doors (1998), Run Lola Run (1998), Twice Upon a Yesterday (1998), Me Myself I (1999), Possible Lives (2001) and The Butterfly Effect (2004). Although here, instead of charting the alternate live paths of its central character, the film gives us three completely different characters played by the same actress Isabelle Huppert who is cast respectively as a coolly sophisticated French director, a wife having an affair and a wife who is left emotionally distraught after her husband abandons her and so it becomes more a film about three different people replaying the same location and situation, not unakin to Bill Murray in Groundhog Day (1993).
In all the stories, most of the events are almost identical Isabelle Huppert signs into a motel at the same Korean seaside town, has a man (Kwon Hae Hyo) with a pregnant wife (Moon So-Ri) who is attracted to and tries to kiss her, borrows an umbrella from the neighbour (Jung Yumi) and goes for a walk to find a lighthouse where she meets a lifeguard (Yu Jungsang) who lives in a tent on the beach and becomes attracted to her. The fun of the film is in watching the same scenario play out with slightly different variations. Hong Sang-soo has a natural talent for directing comedy and some of the offhand reactions that take place the over-eagerness of lifeguard Yu Junsang offering her his tent, writing songs about her and invading the barbecue, Kwon Hae Hyos ploys to get a kiss prove rather delightful. This is also a film that takes place with the dialogue in both Korean and English and some of the funniest asides come in the play between watching the subtitled interpretations of what people are saying, the selective relaying to others of what is being said or the attempts to interpret hand signals.
Hong Sang-hoo has a great deal of fun with the scenarios, interweaving them with an adroit dexterity. The film even extends to a level of meta-fiction with the young author of the stories (Jung Yumi) also writing herself in in the role of the neighbour who gives Isabelle Huppert the umbrella, while her mother (Youn Yunghung) also plays the role of the academic that accompanies Isabelle Huppert in the third story. There is a considerable playfulness between the stories how Isabelle Huppert hides the umbrella that Jung Yumi gives her by the side of the road, which her other self in the third story picks up; while in the first story she and the others encounter broken beer bottles on the beach and in the third story it becomes her drunken self that throws the bottles into the surf. Isabelle Huppert shines in her role, still managing to come across as sexy at the age of 57.
Hang Song-soo performed similar things in the subsequent Right Now, Wrong Then (2016), telling two different versions of the same romance.
(Screening at the Vancouver International Film Festival)