‘Past Lives’ Movie Review: The Most ‘Human’ Film Of The Year
It’s always a wonderful feeling to “catch up” with someone. It’s an even better feeling for it to still feel like old times. But it hits completely differently when you feel “too” connected with that individual. Especially when you’ve moved on. You want everything to still feel great but not too great, you want to make a balance between that person and the person you’re currently seeing, but you realize how difficult that truly is. That’s what director Celine Song explores in her directorial debut Past Lives.
A story about two childhood friends who formed a deep connection only to be eventually separated when one of them moves. Years later they start to reconnect even though they’re both at completely different points in their lives.
When Song screened the film at Independent Film Festival Boston, she described the film as her autobiography and something she still thinks about every day. What interested me throughout the entire film, however, was that she chose to make the film feel dream-like and meditative, but also not take itself too seriously. Song manages to find the humor in her own story; making the balance between the lighthearted moments and the emotional moments all the more seamless. It makes every scene feel more and more authentic to a point where it’s possible to forget that you’re watching a movie.
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Song makes it easy for us to see ourselves in these characters even if we haven’t gone through the same experience. Her screenplay is honest and respectful to these characters. Every one is written with respect for their emotions and sympathy. As the film goes on, we start to relate to each of the characters’ wants and desires that are presented in the film and it gives us a very human experience.
Greta Lee (Nora), Teo Yoo (Hae Sung) and John Magaro (Arthur) all work off each other wonderfully. They each portray their characters with great sincerity and give so much emotional depth to their characters. The chemistry between Lee and Yoo gives us a bond that feels Before Sunrise-level Linklateresque. Their connection feels believable and heart-wrenching, as they have a very clear desire to stay together but realize that it’s too late and they’ve both moved on and are in very different positions in their lives.
Magaro plays Nora’s husband, who is caught in the middle of the reconnection between Nora and Hae Sung, and Magaro captures that awkward yet wholesome and understanding feeling beautifully and makes us care deeply about him and his situation. The chemistry between Arthur and Nora feels authentic to the point where very quickly you start to feel a part of their relationship.
Past Lives is a film that doesn’t try to push so many things onto the viewer but instead lets the audience experience what these characters experience. With relatable characters and a screenplay that’s true to itself, it lets viewers feel like we’re bystanders just watching these connections grow. Song has enough trust in the audience to decide what they would do in this situation. Song writes and directs Past Lives with such care and empathy and as a result, it became possibly the most “human” movie of the year.
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