In the endless arsenal of Isabelle Huppert movies, one of her most recent–from 2012–features, In Another Country, stands apart not just for how noticeably it contrasts the foreignness of Huppert as Anne, marooned three different times as three different variations on the same character in a remote seaside South Korean town called Mohang, but for the unique structure crafted by Hong Sang-soo.
Anne is sprung from the mind of a bored film student, Won-joo (Jung Yu-mi), living with her mother, Park Sook (Youn Yuh-jung), as the two pass the time running away from their debt in the sequestered, nature meets strip mall abyss. To break the tedium, Won-joo decides to write a screenplay about a “charming French woman.” In the first incarnation of the foreigner, Anne is a confident and famous film director seeking momentary solace from the pressures of work while visiting her married friends, Geum-hee (Moon So-ri)–currently pregnant–and Jong-soo (Kwon Hae-hyo). According to the philandering Jong-soo, the two have already shared a kiss, though Anne doesn’t really seem to remember such an event occurring.
Dressed simply in flats, jeans and a long, purplish button-front shirt, it’s clear from the outset that costuming is one of the key factors in setting apart each rendition of Anne. The common denominator between all of them, however, is the attraction to a daffy, nameless lifeguard (Yoo Jun-sang) she encounters while wandering on the beach in search of the town’s only notable landmark, a small lighthouse. The brevity of the first story paves the way for our second Anne, an adulterer with a daintier look, accented by the fact that she wears her impractical heels for every excursion.
Opting to stay in the room being rented out in Mohang for the sake of sustaining anonymity for both her and the director she’s having an affair with, Moon-soo (Moon Sung-keun), Anne is upset and irritated when she calls Moon-soo only to learn that he is still hours away from arriving as a result of accommodating a meeting with an actress. Bored and left with nothing to do but wander, she continues the same trend established by the first Anne when she asks her host if there’s a “nice place” she can go to. And, just as before, her host obliges her by offering to take her around on her way to going shopping. Still, Anne ultimately finds herself walking around alone on a path that leads to the beach, where her lifeguard prince continues to await. More prone to fantasy-indulging and daydreaming, Anne sits on a rock in the water and imagines that Moon-soo has come to surprise her. Instead, a random man interrupts her reverie, prompting her to run off and trot along next to the lifeguard for protection.
Leaving her cell phone behind on the beach, the lifeguard keeps it for her until Moon-soo, now outside of Anne’s door, calls it. By this time, Anne has fallen into a deep sleep that Moon-soo finally manages to coax her out of with the pounding of the door. Informed of her phone loss, Anne and Moon-soo rush back to the beach, where Anne engages a little too flirtatiously with the lifeguard, a fact Moon-soo brings her attention to later when they’re eating together at an empty restaurant. It is, in fact, this element of jealousy in the second story that lays the groundwork for an even more extreme form of it in the third and final act.
This time, the Anne we know is more subdued, recently left by her husband for his young Korean secretary. Accompanied by a professor friend of hers, she seeks peace and refuge at the Mohang getaway. Once more, the married couple, Geum-hee and Jong-soo, appear, with the latter making even bolder advances toward Anne than in the first scenario. But what makes the final narrative most rewarding is that Anne at last gets to take it to the next level with her lifeguard, so chaste were here previous two selves.
Each Anne is lusted after by various and/or the same men in each tale, a testament to the appeal of foreign women–and the exotic in general. Furthermore, the motif of infidelity that colors all three stories provides a somewhat dark undertone to the levity of the script, written by Sang-soo after he had secured the location and cast. But who can remain faithful when the temptation of foreign snatch presents itself?
All in all, the concept of In Another Country is what makes it such a standout film, Sang-soo’s rendering of a unique, yet simple concept interpreted in myriad ways with few overt changes beyond wardrobe.