Celine Song's directorial debut, Past Lives (2023) has already been nominated for Best Screenplay at several film festivals and film boards. Also wearing the writer’s hat, Song creates a semi-autobiography, inspired by her life that just happens to be a romance-drama. The narrative spans over a decade, following adventures and ultimate reunion of two childhood friends, Nora (Greta Lee) and Hae (Teo Yee). The journey of their reconnection poses questions on identity, purpose and destiny.
The film is a slow burn. It warms your heart while slowly breaking it apart. As a romance-drama, it does not follow the rules of the genre as there are no open displays of affection or even a heart-felt confession of love. What we see is a Korean-American immigrant woman grappling with a childhood version of herself and the more Americanized adult professional writer she is now. When Hae visits Nora in New York, Nora must confront the weight of her past life while living in her present reality — with a devoted husband, no less.
The immersive and honest dialogue encourages an investigation of self. Song creates a circumstance where all three characters reflect out loud on the paths they have taken, where they discover that their choices determine the people they become.
As someone who has migrated from her home country, I am particularly moved by Nora’s battle between her past identity in Korea and her life in the United States. This tension is further emphasized by the scenes with both her husband and Hae where the cinematography captures her existing between two worlds, moving between two languages, as she addresses both men.
The performances by all three actors are immaculate, as each sheds light on their internal life with sincere vulnerability. Each character experiences outwardly yet subtly the pains of love; viewers are forced to sit with the complexities of the human heart as they see that these characters are neither villains nor heroes, but humans searching for themselves, wherever they go.Show less...