July 6, 2013

In Another Country: Falling in Love With the Lifeguard All Over Again

Isabelle Huppert in a Korean movie? That's right. It's Hong Sang-soo's In Another Country, a melancholic diversion of three interconnected shorts featuring the transplanted French actress as a bewitching director, a philandering businesswoman and a jilted wife -- each with the same foreign accent. Before you get hung up on Huppert's undifferentiated vocal work, consider this: Hong hasn't cast Huppert to display a Meryl Streep-like range. He's cast her because he recognizes her as a kindred spirit. He knows she's capable of excelling at the in-the-moment acting that exemplifies his films at their best. Indeed, Huppert's proficiency at playing the moments between the moments is most apparent in the opening vignette during which she's largely listening to conversations in Korean she cannot understand in full but nevertheless intuits in good part. If the latter scenes don't allow her to silently upstage her cast mates two more times, they at least show she's in good company with co-stars like Yoon Yeo-jeong, Moon So-ri, and Jeong Yu-mi who match her meaningful glance for meaningful glance as a best friend, a jealous wife and a hotel worker respectively.

The men don't fare as well though. Kwon Hye-hyo may be fine as a hard-drinking man on the make but neither Kim Yong-ok nor Moon Sung-keun are even passably believable as a none-too-clever monk and a mildly amorous director. The nuances of Hong's deceptively simple dialogue escapes them both completely. The only male actor who actually holds his own with the actresses is, ironically enough, beefcake Yoo Joon-sang. Emerging from the waves like a God of Love for each of Huppert's ladies abroad, Yoo's performance as a dimwitted lifeguard isn't mining subtext so much as it's conveying good-natured incomprehension. Flirting in a language he hasn't mastered, he's a consistently humorous counterpart to Huppert's ennui in triplicate. Who wouldn't fall in love with him? And who wouldn't ditch him without remorse soon thereafter?

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