By José Sarmiento
In Another Country sets off to a strange beginning (though not strange by its filmmaker’s standards). A young woman (Jung Yumi) and her mother (Youn Yuhjung) get together in a seaside café and have a discussion about a debt collector they are both running from. In this weird and limbo-like setting, Wonju, the young woman, starts sketching stories out of boredom, stories that have a common pivotal point: A French woman visiting a small town in (Mohang) South Korea. Isabelle Huppert plays the game of the doppelgänger with a peaceful equanimity, a characteristic that pervades all of Hong’s characters, who drift away in the depths of humanity, alcohol, food, and random encounters.
Hong offers a delicate, humorous and understated film in which Huppert plays the part of three women in different situations in their lives, sharing a common element of resigned despair, confusion and foreigner alienation. The game works almost perfectly, with the appearances of the local lifeguard (Jun-Sang Yu) as the common axis of all the stories (the far away shot of the tent in which Sang Yu sings to a mildly awkward Huppert ranks among Hong’s finest) and a local lighthouse, which could easily represent the inner search of all Huppert’s characters in their journey through the town, while all sorts of revolving characters go around, appearing and vanishing.
Not unlike his earlier masterpieces, Hong Sang-soo plays with intertextuality and storytelling, with repetition, intersecting leitmotifs, happy accidents and with a modest but masterfully crafted mise en scene. He might not be (as many of his critics have been saying for some time now) the Hong Sang-soo of Turning Gate any more, but this change of phase isn’t unpleasant or disappointing, quite the contrary, it is a clear sign of maturity and wisdom. His gentle humour and the way in which he approaches his characters has achieved a rare, if not complex peak, a peak which he still sustains with consistence. And for a film-maker who makes two features a year, this is a wonderful and welcome thing indeed.