Set in a seaside town, the film consists of three parts that tell the story of three different women, all named Anne and all played by French actress Isabelle Huppert. The framing story has young film student, Won-joo and her mother Park Sook hiding from their debtors in Mohang, a seaside town in Buan, North Jeolla. The bored younger woman sets out to write a screenplay whose plot will use the place they’re staying in for the location, but eventually comes up with three variants, using the same basic idea in all of them.
“The construction of In Another Country, with its triple role for Isabelle Huppert and its recurring characters, is as much based on the pure experience of the chemistry of feelings (consecutively bringing three women into an a priori identical environment and observing the different reactions) as on pictorial observation (changing the foreground figure to see how the background evolves). Far from any rigidity, this dispositif proves incredibly malicious, in the image of the character of the lifeguard, who is identical in the three stories but behaves much more unpredictably than the spectator’s expectations. We expected ‘again’, but we get ‘either, or’. That is precisely Hong Sang-soo’s sleight of hand: making us believe that he is constantly directing the same film in order to quietly ameliorate the construction of his scaffolding of fictional deployment, a drunken cousin of Smoking/No Smoking, which would rather be called Drinking/No Drinking in his case. Cheers, dear Hong Sang-soo! Cheers to you and to your cinema!”
“Unlike the twice-told tales of Hong’s early career, in which his films’ second halves reiterate their first, revisiting sites and incidents to revise their meaning, Hong’s recent works, including his latest, In Another Country, often repeat episodes more than twice – literally, déjà vu all over again – varying the version of events to cast doubt on their veracity or to offer cubist scrutiny of his complicated characters. In The Day He Arrives, a soju-fueled cross between Last Year at Marienbad and Groundhog Day, Yoo Seongjun, a lapsed director self-exiled to the provinces, roams the streets and bars of Seoul much as X wanders the hallways and gardens of Marienbad, through an endless repetition of settings, characters, and incidents, each reiteration calling previous accounts into question. “I don’t remember a thing,” the bar owner Ye-jeon insists after Seongjun apologizes for what something he has just done, her protestation recalling A’s many disavowals of the past in Marienbad. Whose version does one trust: his, hers, neither?”
“The actor is indeed, as much as the set and the filmmaker himself, an important purveyor of fragments, leading Hong Sang-soo to declare the following about In Another Country: ‘I saw the light, its beams on the floor. I did not yet know what I was going to do with them, but I knew these elements would be at the heart of the film. The same goes for the place where Isabelle Huppert sees the goats. Precision or rather a sense of detail is essential for me. It had to be that place and no other. When I choose the actors, the first time I see them, I identify a number of facts about them. Concerning the actors, it is this mixture of feeling and intuition, and the details gathered at the locations, which make it so that I have to shoot here and nowhere else. It’s a rather strange and indefinable alchemy that inspires me. What’s beautiful is that everything starts from chance. The chance to meet these places, these actors. I never know what drives me to love a place. This road with this arrow, it’s banal, you might not even notice it. Yet I remember that it immediately caught my eye. As if it was something waiting to be revealed by someone.’”
- 1. Joachim Lepastier, “Drinking / No Drinking,” Cahiers du Cinéma, 682 (2012). Republished on Sabzian on 6 May 2020.
- 2. James Quandt, “Déjà Vu,” from the booklet that accompanied Cinema Guild’s DVD of The Day He Arrives. Republished on Sabzian on 7 February 2018.
- 3. Romain Lefebvre, “The Hong Sang-soo Method,” translated by Gerard-Jan Claes and Anton Jäger, Sabzian, 6 May 2020. Originally published as “La méthode Hong Sang-soo. Ou comment tourner un film en quelques jours,” débordements, 6 March 2018.