Updated: Jun 2
I’ve been meaning to better acquaint myself with Hong Sang-soo’s work for quite a while now. Granted, that’s no easy task; he’s among the most prolific filmmakers in the industry these days, currently averaging two productions per year. Still, having thoroughly enjoyed Grass during its limited theatrical run back in 2018, I was hungry to discover what else the director had to offer, and the Criterion Channel provided the perfect opportunity: In Another Country, his first English-language feature.
Blending a whimsically enigmatic plot with a rigidly naturalistic visual style, the movie tells the episodic story of three French tourists—each named Anne, each played by Isabelle Huppert—visiting the sleepy seaside community of Mohang. How these vignettes (as well as the framing device that bridges them) interlink remains ambiguous: several recurring characters (including a philandering celebrity, his pregnant wife, and a comically adorable himbo lifeguard) frequently intersect and collide, but their relationships and interpersonal conflicts are often inconsistent and contradictory. Indeed, multiple interactions are repeated nearly verbatim—like refrains in a poem, or a song’s chorus.
The narrative’s subjective approach to identity, chronology, and reality (themes further explored and elaborated on in 2015’s Right Now, Wrong Then) is grounded by the decidedly objective imagery. The camera neither comments upon nor participates in the action; it merely observes events from a distance, static except for the occasional pan or zoom. These movements are rarely “motivated” in the conventional sense; Hong apparently feels no need to “justify” repositioning his frame, instead freely pointing the lens at whatever happens to be relevant. Edits are equally uncommon; every scene is one shot and every shot is one scene, allowing the performers (or, to be more precise, their intentionally awkward, fumbling multilingual dialogue) to guide the pace and rhythm.
In Another Country certainly won’t be everybody’s bottle of soju, but personally, I find Hong’s distinctive voice almost hypnotically charming. Like Jim Jarmusch, he celebrates the mundane, the ordinary, the minimalistic—and in a cinematic landscape littered with blockbusters and saturated with spectacle, there is great value in that restraint.