BIFF Movie Review: In Another Country

During the opening scene of In Another Country, I found it hard not to roll my eyes as a mother and daughter sip coffee on the balcony of a guesthouse overlooking the sea and exchange dialogue dripping with exposition. An uncle has apparently defaulted on a loan on which the mother is a guarantor, which may force them to stay in the sleepy, seaside village of Mohang.

“How did I get here?” laments the daughter. The daughter further explains, in voice-over, that she has decided to write a script about a visiting French tourist as a means to cope with her situation. As she began to write on a yellow legal pad, I began to wonder if I should use this time to nap before my next film.

Fortunately, as soon as the first vignette begins, the narration ends, though the daughter, Won-ju (Jung Yu-mi), remains in the story as the manager of the guesthouse that serves as the characters’ home base. Enter Anne (Isabelle Huppert), a successful, bohemian French director, who is visiting with fellow film director, Jong-soo (Kwon Hye Hyo), and his pregnant wife, Geum-hee (Moon So-ri). The awkward exchanges between the three and Won-ju as she leads them to their rooms shifts back and forth from English to Korean, which has Anne wondering exactly what’s being said about her. To escape from the tension caused by a (rightfully) jealous Geum-hee, Anne goes in search of the local lighthouse. A wrong turn leads her to the small beach where she encounters a young, handsome lifeguard (Yu Jun-sang). Their exchange, which begins with Anne asking for directions and ends with the lifeguard writing her a song, is absolutely hilarious. In the second vignette, Anne is a rich, uptight housewife who lives in Seoul and is visiting Mohang for a tryst with her Korean lover, a famous film director named Moon-soo. Moon-soo is delayed by a meeting with an actress. Anne’s waiting turns into a series of dream sequences of them reuniting.

This was my least favorite of the vignettes, mostly due to the total lack of chemistry between Huppert and Moon Sung-keun. The third and final story has Anne as a woman who has been recently left by her husband for a Korean woman.  She is visiting Mohang with her friend Park-sook (Yoon Yeo-jeong), a Korean professor, to aide her healing process with the help of a local monk. Instead, she finds her healing in the tent of the local lifeguard.

While there were a few things about In Another Country that fell short (the mother-daughter story from the beginning never had any closure), overall, it was quite enjoyable. The awkwardness between the characters, especially considering that none are native English speakers, provides fertile ground for both comedic and really human moments. However, as a friend of mine, local filmmaker Jon Hardy, pointed out, it might not be a film for someone who isn’t a ‘film person’.

Much of what’s really great about this film lies in the tiniest details: how each incarnation of Anne handles the borrowing of an umbrella, which way she turns each time she comes to the same crossroads. Huppert’s portrayal of three very different women really showed off her range, and she made each of the characters distinct and accessible. Where the film is really successful is in director Hong Sang-soo’s ability to poke fun at Koreans’ tendency to over-explain when dealing with foreigners. At one point, Jong-soo turns to Anne and says, “My wife is pregnant.”  “Yeah, you don’t have to tell me. I can see that,” she retorts. It’s in exchanges like this that the film, shot in minimalist fashion against a sparse backdrop, finds its joy.

265 Lotte Cinema Centum City 2 10-07 11:00
360 CGV Centum City 5 10-08 11:00
643 CGV Centum City 6 10-11 14:00

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