Nora and Hae Sung, two deeply connected childhood friends, are wrest apart after Nora’s family emigrates from South Korea. Two decades later, they are reunited in New York for one fateful week as they confront notions of destiny, love, and the choices that make a life, in this heartrending modern romance.
This is a love story won and lost on youth’s playground. One, Nora (Greta Lee) goes up the blue steps, achieves her version of heaven. The boy, Jung Hae (Teo Yoo) walks down, to home, the opposite direction of her, staying level, staying home.
Fate brings them together every twelves years to briefly reconnect and then drift apart in the winds of unrequited sorrows. It’s a love story that can’t stop crashing into its own gentle tragedies of the heart. You wish Song would stop playing what-if with their hearts and souls and just let their relationship become. But it doesn’t seem Song’s story to control.
It’s a true time travel movie. The characters move forward yet are inevitably chained to the past. That’s to say they are the fulfillment of quotidian life.
Past Lives is a movie where its modesty, its intimacy, its small scale humanity, its lack of any dramatic visual flair is a strength. These characters live in pleasantness- not really above or below it. You want to be their friends, hang out. It has the tranquil joie de vie of a Jacques Rivette film, something like the poster of Celine and Julie Go Boating that hangs discreetly in Nora’s office, but with a slight fatalist undertow, a tear of nostalgia coming on.
For most of Past Lives I kept on thinking Jae Hung might be a ghost, a specter of Nora’s desire to stay in Korea and live a normal Korean marriage and life. Jae Hung is innocuous, the definition of a nice boy. Their talks feel drifty, can feel like filler. And he is not the real emotional focus of the film. Nora is. She is the more interesting character, the one that takes root inside one’s emotional hiding places. Hae Jung is a flickering image on the screen. His open face hides little, not even his vulnerability and yearning. He seems to be the hidden mirror inside Nora’s soul, reflecting her what-ifs and can-nots.
Past Lives is about seeking the embrace of love but living with the accommodations, the American versions. Nora commits to this while Hae Jung remains unattached, going through the motions of loving another, but never committing to anything but her image inside. He is the tragedy of what happens when one can’t let go, decides to live with the hurt and ache.
Past Lives gets a 4.0 out of 5 or an A-.
- David Hinojosa
- Pamela Koffler
- January 21, 2023(Sundance)
- June 2, 2023(United States)