This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie/series/feature being covered here wouldn't exist.
"Past Lives is an emotionally stirring, engaging portrayal of love, life and time, that will no doubt resonate with every viewer on some level."
BY JACK RANSOM SEPTEMBER 15, 2023
One of A24’s most recent critical darling’s and the debut feature from director Celine Song. Past Lives sees Nora (Greta Lee) and Hae Sung (Teo Yoo), two deeply connected childhood friends, are wrested apart after Nora's family emigrates from South Korea. Twenty years later, they are reunited for one fateful week as they confront notions of love and destiny.
Films centering on human connection, relationships and spur of the moment sparks of romance and friendship are features that I have grown to truly appreciate and love over the past few years (The Before Trilogy, Eternal Sunshine…, When Harry Met Sally to name but a few). Past Lives firmly finds itself amongst the aforementioned titles, with its simultaneously melancholic, heartwarming and gut punching cruising slow burn story.
Past Lives divides itself into three perspectives: Nora and Hae Sung’s childhood friendship (and schoolyard crushes) that showcases their infectious, effortless bond… which is heart wrenchingly halted due to Nora’s immigration to the US. 12 years later the pair reconvene over video chat and that powerful connection begins to entwine once more… before it gets too much for Nora. The final perspective (12 years later from the Skype calls) is a captivating, mature and incredibly human (and relatable) cocktail of loneliness, longing and conflicting emotions, as Hae Sung arrives in New York to visit the now married Nora.
The film is consistently stunning to look at. It takes what is very familiar iconography and everyday locales and elevates them to immersive, calming and occasionally dreamlike status (especially NYC). DP Shapier Kirchner does a stellar job with sunsets, sunrises and rain, coupled with tracking shots, long takes and effortlessly placed natural framing all combine to make a thoroughly eye pleasing feature. The score from Christopher Bear and Daniel Rossen is also notable. With its charming strings, acoustics and smatterings of electronica.
The performances are just fantastic all around. The chemistry (or in-yeon) between Greta Lee and Teo Yoo is palpable. The former’s ambitious, travelled persona and consistent longing to expand her horizons and move forward, tangled with the latter’s sombre, rooted in traditional lifestyle and longing for the joy of their childhood connection is incredibly well presented. Lastly, John Magaro’s lingering doubt, smatterings of alienation and questioning of his wife’s affection towards him once Hae Yunioshi arrives is well performed.
Past Lives is an emotionally stirring, engaging portrayal of love, life and time, that will no doubt resonate with every viewer on some level. The performances and chemistry between the cast is palpable, the direction and cinematography elevates everyday life and the structure and pacing of the picture is fittingly precise in taking its time.