Friday Film Review | 'Past Lives'
When “Past Lives” premiered at Sundance Film Festival 2023, many reviewers called it the first, best film of the year!
First time director, Celine Song, wrote “Past Lives” based on elements from her own life story. This enabled her to create the scenes and dialogue with an authenticity that draws viewers into this layered and complicated story of love and loss.
In a great opening scene, we observe our three lead actors, drinking and interacting in a bar. We hear an off-screen discussion between two patrons playing a guessing game of how the good-looking Asian couple and slightly bedraggled white guy are related to one another.
We learn the couple, Na Young and Hae Sung, grew up together in Korea and were the very best of friends. At age twelve, Na Young’s family immigrated to Canada where she became Nora and left behind everything Korean, including her special friend. Twelve years later Hae Sung discovers Nora through social media. Twelve years later, Nora is married, and all three connect when Hae Sung visits New York.
This may sound like the beginning of love triangle, but it is very far from that. Although it is a love story, it is not typical in any way. It is less about choosing a partner, and more about choosing a life and accepting that you leave behind versions of yourself in the life not chosen.
Several times, the Korean concept of ‘inyun’ is mentioned. It is the belief that certain people have connections with each other that can build up over time in past lives and perhaps bring them together in a future life.
Director Song, has crafted a remarkable film. The pace is slow but meaningful. Dialogue is limited but powerful as are the silences. The music is effectively composed and scene after scene beautifully designed and shot. A huge shout out to Cinematographer Shabier Kirchner.
Great chemistry exists between the set of young actors as well as the adult actors. Na Young or Nora is played by Greta Lee. Her husband Arthur is John Magara and Hae Sung is played by Teo Yoo. All three actors do a brilliant job of interacting with words, silences and body language. I empathized with all three. At one point Arthur tells Hae Sung, “you did the right thing.” In fact, all three of them did the right thing.
“Past Lives” is in English and Korean with English subtitles. It is rated PG-13 and runs 1 hour and 46 fateful minutes. This is Barb Bretz with your Friday Film Review. See you at the movies.