COMPETITION DRAMA | 88MIN | 35MM
Director HONG Sangsoo Cast Isabelle Huppert, MOON Sung-keun, YU Jun-sang International Sales FINECUT
A great director meets one of the great actresses of our time; HONG Sangsoo meets Isabelle Huppert. Such an encounter is not only one of the most important events in the history of Korean cinema, but also in the world of contemporary film. In fact it was the idea of collaboration between the two that motivated the conceptualization, planning, and completion of HONG’s latest film, <In Another Country>. This is a review of the film from first encounter to final product, with special attention paid to its particular aesthetic. A Korean director once said about HONG’s films: “HONG Sangsoo’s best work? It’s always his newest film!” HONG’s thirteenth feature and his third film selected for the official competition of Cannes, <In Another Country> won’t be an exception to the rule.
As is already well known, HONG Sangsoo has long abandoned the screenwriting stage of the film production process. He makes rough treatments instead, and sometimes not even that; there have been many occasions on which he started films from somewhat long memos written on only a few pieces of paper. He is the type who always tries to be open to the ‘process of discovery’ that opens up after screenwriting. This attitude is now the most basic filmmaking principle featured in his movies. Casting is another one of the more important processes of ‘discovery’. Thus since his last film, <The Day He Arrives> (2011), HONG had been open to possibilities, undecided about what his next film will be about. That is, until he met Isabelle Huppert.
When HONG Meets Huppert
It was in Seoul, in 2011, when Isabelle Huppert’s photo exhibition had just been unveiled and her film <Copacabana> was released in theaters. The actress came to Korea for the occasion and had meetings with the film directors she had always wanted to meet -- namely PARK Chanwook, LEE Chang-dong, BONG Joon-ho and IM Sang-soo. HONG Sangsoo was on the list as well. According to HONG, Huppert’s casting happened when they were drinking makgeolli (a brewed Korean rice wine) at a restaurant in Seoul, a place that has often appeared in his films. Not expecting much, and in a casual tone that may have even sounded like a joke, he spoke to Huppert. “I’m about to start a new film. Nothing about it has been decided yet. Would you like to be in it?” Then came an astonishing reaction from her: “Yes!!” Huppert replied without even a second of hesitation. “The film came to be what it is now when Isabelle decided to join it”, says HONG. At the end of June, she came to Korea by herself to meet HONG Sangsoo for filming.
<In Another Country>. As the title already implies, the film is about a traveler, visitor, or foreigner: in other words, a film focusing on Isabelle Huppert. It is composed of roughly three parts. The film starts with a conversation between a daughter (JUNG Yu-mi) and her mother (YOUN Yuh-jung). It is obvious the two are here at this vacation town in the countryside to run away from the debts they owe back in the city. This means these women will likely meet Huppert, right? Certainly not. Soon after, the daughter sits at the dining room table to scribble a short film screenplay, saying it’s a way to while away the boring days here. That’s when her story starts to unravel, divided into three parts.
Anne or Huppert, the Outsider in Another Country
Seemingly similar, the three stories, each about a traveller or visitor, are infinitely different. Each part of <In Another Country> pushes and pulls at the others, causing actions and reactions. This is the source of the incredible cinematic tension found inside this film. The deepest mystery, that which brings this tension to its climax, is no other than the main character herself, played by Isabelle Huppert. In each of the three parts, her name is Anne. The three characters she plays are each different people, yet they are still directed toward each other.
The first part’s Anne seems like a wise person of an independent but generous nature. Within this section, the episode that occurs between Anne and a lifeguard is one of the warmest and kindest of the film. The Anne from part two is blinded by love. For this reason she’s charming, hysterical and odd. She comes to Korea to meet her love, the Korean director Soo, and the scene portraying two of her dreams is the highlight of this film as well as the epitome of the HONG Sangsoo aesthetic, dashing between dream and reality. In the final section, she is somewhat different. It seems the woman has lost her marbles, or perhaps is simply grouchy. It’s only natural. She has been betrayed by her husband, who then divorces her. At first she appears somewhat vulnerable. Yet in the end she draws courage and finds enlightenment on her own. This is made apparent in the film’s final scene, which follows Anne from behind as she energetically walks down a road, far away, all on her own.
Take a close look at <In Another Country> and you will notice the characters repeating the same lines and same actions. They lose certain qualities occasionally, sometimes finding them again and sometimes abandoning them forever. In the course of doing so, they lead us on, saying, “There is no one here” or “There is nothing there.” Then there is the most important line. Each of Isabelle Huppert’s three Annes ask the lifeguard, “Where is the lighthouse?” <In Another Country> is a film where something is lost, sought after, and in the end either found or not found. On the day I saw the film, HONG Sangsoo asked me a question discreetly; “How did the last scene feel?” Now, I too wonder how you will feel and what kind of life you will see as you follow Anne, walking away.
In Part One, three characters head to a vacation spot together. There is Anne (Isabelle Huppert), a well-known French director, her old Korean acquaintance Jong-soo (KWON Hae-hyo), who is also a film director, and his fully pregnant wife (MOON So-ri), who is suspicious of Jong-soo and Anne’s relationship. In Part Two, Anne (Isabelle Huppert), the wife of an automobile company’s vice president, goes to the same vacation spot to secretly meet the person she’s really in love with, a Korean director named Soo (MOON Sung-keun). Then in Part Three, having lost her husband to a Korean woman and suffered a divorce, the French woman Anne (Isabelle Huppert) and a Korean folklorist (YOUN Yuh-jung) again come to the same vacation town, only to meet Jong-soo and his wife by chance. Although played by the same actors, each part’s characters are different beings in different circumstances. However, the film is not an omnibus with three independent stories. Consider <Oki’s Movie> (2010) and <The Day He Arrives>; the same actor playing multiple roles is commonly seen in HONG’s films. In addition, two strange characters appear in the story. Special attention should be paid to the lifeguard (YU Jun-sang) and the boarding house clerk (JUNG Yu-mi), both of whom Anne can’t avoid running into.