Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Past Lives

Writer/director Celine Song's Past Lives examines the haunting touch of love across time and distance. After introducing us to 12 year-old best friends Na Young (Moon Seung-ah) and Hae Sung (Leem Seung-min) on the verge of something more, Na Young's family leaves South Korea for the United States, and we skip forward 12 years where Hae Sung (Teo Yoo) reconnects with Na Young now Nora (Greta Lee) over the Internet. Living on opposite sides of the globe, the two find their connection in place although the inability to physically connect becomes eventually too great and leads to another 12 year gap where the now married Nora is visited by Hae Sung in New York City.

Song's feature debut is a delicate masterpiece that never falls in cliché while weaving its tapestry around Nora, Hae Sung, and Nora's husband Arthur (John Magaro) who takes the unusual circumstances in stride even cracking one joke suggesting what an American version of this film might look like.

Past Lives is an intimate film filled with silences and wonderful conversations. Presented in both English and Korean, the film's true language is that of love. Through Nora we see the woman wistful of her childhood love and thankful for the life she's built with her husband. And through Hae Sung we feel the pull of searching for something lost, a piece of himself decades ago that traveled across the sea and has only now been found. 

Great movies can take the simplest concept and turn it into grand cinema. That's what Song provides here with three great performances, a story to sweep them up in what ifs and what might have beens, and a series of low-key settings that frame events and ground the fairy tale aspects in real life. It's an amazing piece of filmmaking and easily one of the best films of 2023. Refusing to paint any of the three characters as victims or intruders to each others lives, Song provides a love triangle that is wholly about love, understanding, and connection. Each of the characters understand the story they are in providing real human reaction to events so perfect they could only play out on a movie screen.

Watch the trailer
  • Title: Past Lives
  • IMDb: link

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