by Paul Attard Retrospective

In Another Country | Hong Sang-soo

October 25, 2018

In Another Country signals something of a shift in the approach of Hong Sang-soo’s films, one in which the director’s generally economically modest production methods begin to become more consistently transnational. The film centers on a woman played by French actress Isabelle Huppert, who speaks English throughout. Its narrative is less knotty than some of Hong’s others, briefly setting-up a frame story — there are three different screenplays, all written by Won-joo (Jung Yu-mi), who’s hiding from creditors at a seaside resort — before diving into its first mini-narrative, in which Anne (Huppert), a famous filmmaker, visits her Korean friend, Jong-soo (Kwon Hae-hyo). Each new scenario after this one marginally changes Anne’s motivations for being in Korea: the second story has her visiting her lover and the third has her visiting a recently divorced university associate. But all feature the same themes of broken communication and loneliness.

All three narratives are kept at a certain emotional remove — except when In Another Country indulges in broad comedy.

Within this narrative set-up, there’s a certain decentralization as to whose perspective the audience is supposed to be taking. Since Anne is the creation of Won-joo, the two are somewhat inseparable, and thus it’s hard to enter the mental space of either — they feel like two characterizations dependent on each other. To make things more complicated, with the cycling of each narrative, Anne’s demeanor changes rather drastically, to the point where there’s little-to-no continuity to her character between the three scenarios. Because of this, each narrative feels less like it’s building off of the last and more as if it’s defined by a distinct, and separate, formal strategy. This puts all three narratives at a certain emotional remove — except when In Another Country indulges in broad comedy. The clearly awkward interactions between Anne and her Korean acquaintances help to give the film verve even when its narratives feel stilted. And the most embarrassing, yet enlightening, of these sequences involves Anne’s visit to a monk in the final story. Anne berates the monk him with a series of faux-intellectual ponderings, continuously asking him, “What do you mean?” His response? “I mean nothing… you want a meaning?” And just like that, Hong refuses his audience a deeper understanding as well, leaving us to contemplate the answers on our own.

Part of Hong Sang-soo: Look at Everything Again Slowly.