Isabelle Huppert stars as three women in one tale that seems simple, but only deceptively so, in "In Another Country," a new film by South Korean director Hong Sang-soo.
"In Another Country" opens tonight for a four-night run at the Little Cinema at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield.
In a series of three vignettes, Huppert appears as a French tourist in Korea named Anne -- in one, Anne is a film director; in another, the wife of an executive meeting her lover, and, in the final segment, a divorced woman traveling with an older Korean woman in order to get her mind off her life.
In each of the segments, Huppert meets many of the same characters -- most importantly a film director, who serves as a love interest, and a simple, goofy lifeguard at a beach. Some of the situations of each segment repeat in the others, some are rearranged, sometimes conversations happen in each, sometimes they will appear as a variation. At center is Huppert’s alienation as she tries to navigate not just Korean culture, but the mindset of Korean males and their attitude toward foreign women.
The key to the film, though, is not Huppert at all, but the young girl (Jung Yumi) who manages the lodgings, and interacts with Huppert’s character at various points. In the beginning of the film, she talks to her mother about a dire family issue, and then takes to her note pad to begin a movie script to take her mind off her problems. At the beginning of the film, you have no idea where it is going, and so filed away, you become interested in the story of Anne. But with each iteration of Anne as a new character with a new motivation, the young girl appears to begin writing her new draft, and it’s important to remember that this is a cast of characters seen through the eyes of a young, rather naive girl.
And so this is not the story of a French woman visiting Korea, but, rather, the story of a young Korean woman bringing a French tourist into her everyday backdrop, mixing and weaving reality with her own impressions of the the world and life around her. As depicted by the lifeguard and even herself, the locals are simple and awkward.
Film people are conniving, dark, exciting. French women are fancy, complicated. And all these characters are the girl’s to mix and match, rearrange, reconfigure, control. In a life where she doesn’t seem to have much say of the family strife, she’s more than capable of fabricating playthings in order for her to come to terms with darkness and conflict, and look at her own surroundings with a critical eye, and even investigating notions of love, romance and sex.
In this way, "In Another Country" is less about an outsider, and their relationship with an insular world, than an insider who is bringing outside influences in as a measure against the insular world. It’s a dry, though alluring work, low-key and sometimes feeling amateurish.
But still its multi-levels provide fascinating depths to the multiple worlds it portrays, and the young mind it mirrors in the narration.