Chucklesome, but of little consequence, Hong Sang-soo's comedy wrings much of its wry humour from casting France's princess of darkness in the lead and having her deliver all her lines in bemused, heavily accented English. Huppert's pronounced tendency to dominate scenes with chilly imperiousness is nowhere to be seen here, a rare respite the actress appears to relish, playing a trio of high-flying foreigners abroad, all imagined by a young girl whose summer is frustrated when her missing uncle's beach-side holiday home is entrusted to her family as guarantors. It's a welcome change of pace for Huppert that longtime fans will get a kick out of, even if in three purposely similar parts, this lightly amusing detour strains feature-length credibility.
If hearing Huppert in English sounds strange, the decision to have her speak in a language that's not her own, in a country where she understands nothing that isn't (mis)translated for her, seems to have been made with a sense of alienation in mind. Or perhaps it's that Huppert has always seemed somewhat alien and otherworldly, a quality that's more outstanding when not hidden behind subtitles.
Personifying exotic 'otherness', Huppert is perfectly cast as three women whose allure is established through a series of repeating comedic ripples across three different stories. All three embody the appeal of the foreigner, as well as the human propensity for mistakes made over again and rarely learned from.
In the first story she's a famous film director bewitching two Korean men; a work colleague (Kwon Hae Hyo) whose heavily pregnant wife (Moon So-Ri) is rightly suspicious of something going on, and a dim-bulb lifeguard (Yu Jungsang) who invites her back to his tent and writes her dorm room acoustic-type valentines with stoned enthusiasm, but has no idea where she might find the local lighthouse. In the second she's a woman having an affair with a Korean film director, and the third a woman on vacation after being dumped by her Korean man. Characters from the first story play prominent roles in the second and third, often riffing on exchanges we've already heard, and through it all there's a crafted air of naturalness that feels largely improvised.
None of this is trying to make any redoubtable conclusions about it's characters, instead conversational variations ask us to observe and recognize all the various ways we are, if nothing else, creatures of habit. Too often, we make willful declarations of obstinance, only to re-adjust the goalposts five minutes later: feeling guilty the second he returns home to his pregnant wife, Huppert's work colleague insists that their kiss meant nothing and that they ought to remain friends, but all it takes is a cranky tongue-lashing from his bloated wife sprawled out on the floor to send him running back and asking for a final kiss, one last youthful indulgence before he must resign himself to marriage and the impending responsibilities of parenthood. Re-staged action also comments on we how we're so easily tempted down off our high horse to hypocritically partake in the same behaviour we criticise. In one story, Huppert and friends are disgusted by yobs who litter the beach with broken beer bottles, and in another an inebriated Huppert flings her emptys into the water.
It can't go unnoticed how all three stories pair Huppert with Korean men, yet in none of them does she have even a perfunctory knowledge of the language. While that's one way to make a summer fling of semi-emotional involvement work, clearly it's a bad habit she needs to break. Over time and three different lives she seems to start to realise this, even if she's no closer to finding the lighthouse that might illuminate an alternate path to her damaging cycle. Local women make fun of her from across the table, knowing full well she can't understand a word, but by the third story Huppert is no longer the gawking tourist, grinning ear to ear with the aloofness which is her trademark. Reading their bodies, she understands perfectly, though she's quite content to continue playing ignorant.
Perhaps that's because in another country, one doesn't necessarily hold themselves to their own standards. It's a chance to try new on personas and even live lies away from the watchful eye of friends and family back home. In the same way a young girl imagines three lives of another nationality to bring glamour to a place she'd rather be anywhere but, here we see Huppert imaging herself as a supporting player, liberated from the dour intensity of leading roles, where she can amble on screen rather than have to command it. It might not be anywhere as bizarrely fanciful as the time she mud-wrestled Lily Tomlin in I Heart Huckabees, but it's the most fun she's had since. How much you have depends on whether or not you're likely to enjoy watching ninety minutes of an actress letting her hair down and shaking off the baggage of what she's best known for.
In Another Country plays as part of the 56th BFI London Film Festival at the Ciné Lumière 15th October, 2012 at 6:30pm and the Leicester Square VUE, Screen 7 on 17th October, 2012 at 12:45 PM. Buy tickets HERE