Rating:There are three Annes in Hong Sang-soo’s In Another Country. Each one, played by Isabelle Huppert, struggles with language barriers, amorous Korean men and the search for a beautiful lighthouse, the only nice place in the tiny seaside town of Mohong, Korea. But none of these Annes exist; they are all the creation of film student Wonju (Jung Yumi), forced to live in hiding at the West Blue Hotel in Mohong. Her uncle has done something quite wrong with her family’s money, it seems, and though he should turn himself in to the authorities, neither Wonju nor her mother seem to hold much hope. As her mother promises to find a way out of their situation, Wonju begins work on a screenplay to steady her nerves.
In Another Country is Hong’s light and intricate take on love and communication, told through what is usually a very boring thing, at least for the observer: the writing process. Wonju’s screenplays use many of the same characters, behaviors and motives, refined due to unseen rewrites. Clumsy scenes suddenly end and start again, dialogue changes and the camera moves in abruptly without warning. And though Anne is a constantly-present character in triplicate, the film is really about the nearly unseen Wonju.
After a false start, she begins a story of a Korean director, his pregnant wife and Anne, their famous French director guest, all staying at the West Blue Hotel. Everyone tells Anne she’s beautiful and charming, but they don’t mean it; she makes them uncomfortable and spends most of her time being oblique and confrontational. In the second story, Anne is a married woman sneaking around with another Korean director, this time the jealous Moonsoo (Moon Sungkeun).
It’s the third story where the film, and the presumed fictional screenplay, settles in. Imagery that was no more than random bits of business in the first two vignettes finally coalesces. Characters that were fleshless stereotypes become compelling, and the humor plays with more depth and sentimentality. In this third act, Anne is a recently-divorced woman traveling with her friend Park Sook (Youn Yuhjang), Wonju’s mother in real life, cast as a professor in her screenplay.
A master at unflinching awkwardness, Huppert embraces the clumsy staging and dialogue in earlier scenes and plays to French stereotypes with subtle humor, and an unimpeachable international reputation makes scenes where Anne struggles with the language barrier particularly hilarious. Veteran Korean actress Youn gives a delightful performance as Park, her subtle glances powerful against Huppert’s more intense acting style. Through all this is the realization that human interaction is ridiculous, frustrating, joyful, and most of all very, very silly.
The story of the family debt is never spoken of after the brief introduction, when Wonju ceases to be the real-world angry girl in hiding and becomes a fictional friendly girl working at the hotel, unassuming but always present. Her debt doesn’t exist in the fictional world, yet its weight is felt in all three stories. Recurring themes, places and faces make it clear we’re seeing Wonju working out her troubles. We never fully discover who these people are to her, but we do know that she wants escape, and perhaps even finds it, in a fashion.