Cannes: Isabelle Huppert plays three roles in In Another Country by South Korean director Hong Sang-soo about French women lost in translation among admirers in Asia, premiering at Cannes on Monday.
Huppert, 59, appears as a trio of different characters, all named Anne, in quirky vignettes dreamed up by a young screenwriter, a woman seen only briefly in the film.
All the stories take place in the seaside town of Mohang, with Anne the successful film-maker, Anne the married woman cheating on her husband with a Korean man and a third Anne the fragile divorcee whose husband ran off with a Korean woman.
In the town she has a series of chance encounters with local personalities including a hunky lifeguard, the husband of a heavily pregnant woman who has always dreamed of seducing an elegant Frenchwoman, and even a Buddhist monk who cannot resist her request to have the Mont Blanc pen to which he is "attached".
The language barrier reduces the interactions to the most basic of global English, leaving plenty of room for misunderstandings but also for an array of universal gestures conveying attraction, frustration and generosity.
"This is the subject of the film. It's about someone who visits another world that is far from home, but filming with him I found a sensation that was both exotic and one of extreme familiarity," Huppert said of Hong.
Hong said he was interested in the experience of global travellers leaving their comfort zone and the effect it has on both the foreigners and the locals.
"My hope is that the audience can identify with Anne and this feeling of being plunged into an unknown universe, in a country where you are essentially alone," he told reporters.
Hong, 51, is a Cannes regular, now on his fourth turn in competition after Woman is the Future of Man and Tale of Cinema in 2004 and 2005, then Night and Day in 2008.
And he won the top prize in the festival's Un Certain Regard sidebar section two years ago for Hahaha. In Another Country is his first film shot mainly in English.
The French screen icon said Hong managed to bridge cultural differences between Asia and Europe with a kind of universal humanist film-making.
"The first film of Hong Sang-soo that I saw was 'Woman is the Future of Man' in Paris and ... I felt a real familiarity with this film," she said.
"I had a feeling that this was both a Korean film and a film that was very close to our sensitivity, the sort of thing we like in France - I had a weird feeling of both distance and proximity."
Huppert has turned her interest to Asian films of late and starred earlier this year as an aid worker kidnapped by Islamic extremist group Abu Sayyaf in Filipino director Brillante Mendoza's Captive.
She is also appearing in a second Cannes contender, Michael Haneke's devastating and highly praised portrait of aging, Love.
Twenty-two films are vying for the Palme d'Or top prize at cinema's top international showcase, to be awarded at a gala ceremony on Sunday.