This was posted originally at Wonders in the Dark.
by Jaime Grijalba.
a.k.a. In Another Country
director Hong Sang-soo
(South Korea, 89 min)
Hong Sang-soo is another of those korean directors that are always being talked about in certain circuits of film fanatics, critics and scholars, sometimes with more praise and analysis than any of those I mentioned in last week’s article about the south korean film Pieta, directed by Kim Ki-Duk. He seems to be regarded as a director who has a distinct sensibility and set of themes that he puts forward in every one of his films, and he also seems to be pretty regular and prolific in that sense too, putting at least one movie a year for the past 5 years, and more or less a movie every 2 years since 1996 with his debut ‘The Day a Pig Fell into the Well’ (1996). As important as the director is in this concept for a film, and its (sometimes innecesary) intricate storytelling, the most important and noticeable thing about this film is its main character: the talented and famous french actress Isabelle Huppert. It’s amazing to see how her career has advanced and expanded as years have gone by, specially in these recent years, as we see many of the most important directors of the world look for her to star in their movies, and so she has only gone up and above any expectation, with over a 100 movies in her repertoire, and with only 62 years of age (you wish you looked like her when you were 62 sistah). Just in 2012 she starred in the italian film ‘Bella addormentata’ (2012) directed by Marco Bellocchio, the portuguese production ‘Linhas de Wellington’ (2012) directed by Raúl Ruiz’s widow Valeria Sarmiento (since he died when it was in pre-production, she was suggested to continue it), the pinoy film ‘Captive’ (2012) directed by the famous Brillante Mendoza, the french film ‘Amour’ (2012) directed by the german director Michael Haneke (where she plays a brilliant supporting performance), and in this south korean film… and here we’re talking just about this year, if we go back in time we see many collaborations with directors like Raúl Ruiz, Michael Haneke, Claire Denis, Ursula Meier, David O. Russell, François Ozon and even in an episode of ‘Law and Order: Special Victims Unit’ of all series that she could’ve starred in.
Now, let’s talk about this film in particular, and of all the recent filmography of her, this must be the closest that has ever been to a love-letter to her persona, her acting and her sole existence. It is obvious that Hong is a fan, as much as Huppert is a fan of Hong, and that can be easily shown since she is the main character and everything centers and happens around her. The movie starts with a conversation regarding family, couples, and stories of abuse, between a young korean female film student and her mother, and how she has to stay at this lost seaside korean city for a while as the problems in the main city pass. In the meantime, she has met what she describes as a “french lady” that stays in the cabin just besides the one in which she is staying, and thus she becomes inspired, she starts writing a script (with pen and paper) for a film that is divided in three stories about three different french women who arrive to the cabin and have a love story of their own in the same place… the thing is that the three french ladies are played by the same Isabelle Huppert, and all the characters repeat their actors as they are positioned in different spots and with different relationships between each other, as if it were a glimpse into parallel universes, even if the narration from the young film student tells it as if it were a continuation, as if one french lady was succeded by another that was completely different. There are repetitions, of course, in the length of the film, as well as characters that have the same reactions and dialogues when they are c0nfronted with certain situations, such is the case in the relation between the french lady and the lifeguard, they both speak in a faulty english (Isabelle Huppert is better, obviously) and whenever they are together, the lifeguard seems completely hooked to the figure and the speech of the lady, inviting her to his tent, and even yelling with his outrageous accent ‘I Love You’, and in some way, since the first time you see these two talk, it seems genuine, their nervousness, their attempts to make themselves clear as to what they say and do, trying to understand and not offend the other, it is, for me at least, the axis and the connecting narrative of these three iterations of similar characters and different circumstances.
You can’t shake off the sensation of something strange that is going on, and you suspect that some of the characters carry memories from one story to the other, and other times it seems that it isn’t so, as if it wanted to be something similar to the classic that is ‘Lola rennt’ (1998) but Hong really didn’t want to go all the way. At the end it seems like one of those movies I like to call ‘appropiate’: great acting, great cinematography, great framing, great concept… but the emotions? It comes close to achieving many of them, but there is something about the alienating way of shooting everything from a distance or in a complex angle that made the situations distant for me, as if they were happening, but at the same time they didn’t want me to fall in love with Huppert as everyone else was, or they didn’t want me to feel the shame of the lifeguard whenever he was rejected by Huppert, we feel something, but we don’t feel with them, which is a bit sad, because I think that it may as well be a staple for Hong doing the things this way, but either if he changed it a bit (like Haneke did for ‘Amour’ (2012) resulting in brilliance) or made the emotions a tad bit stronger and more outer than inner, I think I would’ve fell for this movie instantly. As always is with the movies directed by Hong, all the important characters are related in some way or another to film, as many of the couples or friends of the french lady are directors, producers, and our narrator is a film student that is writing the script that we are watching, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the french lady is just a doppledanger of Isabelle Huppert, as we know that she is involved in some way to these characters via film, and that strenghts my illusion of this movie being a tribute to the great figure and acting of Huppert in all these years. Totally recommended for those who like Huppert… and really, who doesn’t?