If you’ve seen any of Korean director Hong Sang-soon’s previous films (“Woman on the Beach,” for example, which played at the Grand Illusion in 2008), you’ll immediately recognize “In Another Country” as Hong’s handiwork. His trademark themes, visual style and multipart story structure have become so familiar that some critics have charged him with stagnant repetition.
“In Another Country” doesn’t deserve that kind of flippant dismissal. While it’s not as rewarding as “Woman,” it curiously unfolds as a triptych involving three different French women named Anne, each visiting a Korean seaside village and intermingling with the same or similar characters.
To fill those roles, Hong scored a casting coup: He called upon French film legend Isabelle Huppert to play all three Annes. When the film’s structural novelty begins to wear off, we’ve still got Huppert’s subtle performances to marvel at.
So you’ve got three Annes (a single filmmaker; the cheating wife of a businessman; a recent divorcee still stinging from her ex’s infidelities) in three discreet yet subtly interconnected story lines. They involve supporting characters appearing in each story line as variants of themselves — with one exception: Each Anne encounters an awkwardly smitten lifeguard (Yoo Jun-sang) who’s woven into all three story lines.
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I can’t say for sure if it all hangs together (or even if this synopsis is totally accurate) because by the time its third story kicked in, “In Another Country” lost me. Hong’s small, insular, character-based films have frequently been compared to the work of French director Eric Rohmer, and to some extent that honor applies here. But while it’s always fascinating to watch Huppert (who turns 60 in March) as she rises to an acting challenge, I kept wishing this actually was a Rohmer film, which probably would’ve been half as clever but far more engaging.