Past Lives is one of those small, thought-provoking indie gems that draws you in from the opening scene and keeps you quietly engaged throughout. It’s not a film you can multi-task through as it’s in English and Korean with subtitles, and you really don’t want to miss a word, though the non-verbal exchanges are also golden. A glance, a gleam, a wince, a sigh. Past Lives tells the story of two childhood sweethearts, Nora (Greta Lee) and Hae Sung (Teo Yoo), who lose touch for more than a decade after Nora’s family emigrates from South Korea to North America. They re-connect through social media and still share an obvious bond. But are they destined to be together?
The film is masterfully directed by Celine Song, who also wrote the screenplay based on her own experiences as a Korean-Canadian living in New York, working as a writer, pondering the “what-if”s in life. I don’t want to reveal too much about how the story unfolds because the less you know going in, the more you’ll get out of it. It’s worth noting there is somewhat of a love triangle involving an American writer named Arthur (John Magaro) who genuinely loves and respects Nora, and she him.
There are no villains in this story. And no major blow-ups. There is jealousy and envy and a flood of conflicted emotions. All valid.
Past Lives is a moving, nuanced film that leans into the notion of In-Yun, a Korean concept about fate and providence, and the idea that the destined connection between two people is informed by countless other interactions or near-interactions they had in past lives. So if you’re into modern romance with a cosmic twist, you’ll want to watch Past Lives in this lifetime. It’s streaming now.
Arty Chick’s take: I’m in total agreement with Mainstream Chick on this one. It’s a beautiful story that many of us can relate to. That one person who maybe we should have kept in our lives and everything would have been different. Or maybe not. Greta Lee is fabulous and I hope she gets some recognition for her subtly powerful performance. This is one of the year’s best small films.