Sunday, January 13, 2013

In Another Country

What an odd little movie is Hong Sang-soo’s English/French/Korean hybrid “In Another Country,” which offers only the sparest of intellectual pleasures. A nonsensical two-minute framing device leads into three half-hour stories about a Frenchwoman named Anne staying at a small seaside inn several hours outside of Seoul. In the first, Anne is a successful film director; in the second, a philandering spouse; in the third, a divorcĂ©e whose husband has left her for a Korean woman. Isabelle Huppert plays all three Annes, and if it were Eddie Murphy, he’d have demanded they list his name thrice in the credits.

Once in each story, Anne walks from the inn to a beach in search of a small lighthouse she’s seen somewhere (in her dreams?). There she encounters a friendly, well-built lifeguard who engages her in sweet but stilted broken-English conversations. Certain scenes repeat with minor changes from one story to the next, and the third story apparently precedes the first (a secret kiss referenced early on happens an hour later; glass shards Anne almost steps on in the first story come from a bottle she breaks in the third). These elements come off less as authentic and purposeful pieces of storytelling than as references to be cited in a film-school essay. What they mean (that we lived past lives producing effects in this one?) remains as opaque as a monk Anne fruitlessly interviews in the last segment.

The promotional materials describe “In Another Country” as a laugh-out-loud comedy, but a lot gets lost in translation. There’s no substance or consistency to Anne – her behavior vacillates wildly, including from moment to moment within individual stories – and while Huppert’s a consummate pro, Hong has done her no favors with this bipolar-acting character. She’s left to fill in the gaps in the script and at times comes off broad and amateurish.

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