Past Lives (Celine Song, 2023, USA/South Korea)

Past Lives is the debut feature from director Celine Song. A clear autobiographical tale based on the director's own lived experience, the film recalls three segments in the life of its two protagonists - Nora and Sung Hae. Nora emigrates with her family to Canada from South Korea, leaving her best friend Sung Hae behind. 10 years later, now Americanized and attending college in NYC, Nora reconnects with Sung Hae over Facebook and Skype. A romance blossoms, but Nora feels she has to cut it off. This culminates in the film's third act, another 10 years in the future. Nora is now married to her husband, a fellow playwright named Arthur. Sung Hae comes to NYC to visit her.

Though ostensibly a romance, Past Lives at times feels like a thriller. Particularly in the film's third act, it is unclear what direction Nora's life will take. Will she abandon her husband and return to Sung Hae? Will Sung Hae and Arthur get into a confrontation? The film's final scene is filled with tension. Song has a unique visual style, and she captures NYC in a novel way. While Linklater's Before... trilogy provides some of the narrative background of the film, visually there are certain references here to Wong Kar Wai.

The film is noteworthy for its performances, particularly that of Teo Yoo as Sung Hae. He captures the presence and mood of a young man who is deeply unhappy with his life and yet doesn't complain. He portrays this character with a deep longing. Usually when films like this receive heaps of praise, there is room for skepticism. But Past Lives is one of those rare films that lives up to the critical hype around it. If this is Song's only film, it would certainly be an achievement worth mentioning.



Popular Posts