At last year’s DFF I saw my first film from director Hong Sang-soo, a playful academic exercise called The Day He Arrives. It’s another year, another film for Hong (his filmography shows 15 films in as many years). This year’s film, In Another Country, plays a lot like last year’s. It’s an arty, though not particularly artful, experiment in film.
Three different stories are told using many of the same actors (including French heavyweight Isabelle Huppert) and the same basic situation: a French woman comes to a bed-and-breakfast in Mohang, a small Korean town, and disrupts the lives of the locals. The stories are justified as the amateur scribblings of a young screenwriter, the daughter of the family that runs the B&B.
Some of the acting and cinematography feels unprofessional. The are handheld zooms within long takes. Unrehearsed actors deliver lines they don’t seem familiar with. At first it’s funny because we know the stories are all in the mind of the young woman writing scripts. But the unpolished feel can get old.
In each story, one of the Korean men falls in love with the visitor from France. Sometimes it’s the husband of the B&B’s pregnant hostess. Sometimes it’s a lifeguard she meets while taking a walk in search of a “small lighthouse.” The high point of the three stories is the interaction between Huppert and the handsome, gregarious lifeguard as they try to communicate in English.
So does the Frenchwoman provoke the local men by flirting with them? Or are Korean men easily distracted by French women? Is the film really supposed to be seen through the eyes of a young teen? Or is that just an excuse for a professional filmmaker to play with the medium?
Art film fans willing to play along with Hong will have fun with In Another Country. Mainstream audiences looking for something at DFF should probably skip it.