Debut Filmmaker Celine Song Fashions Gorgeous Look at Love and Destiny in “Past Lives”

Premiered at Sundance Film Festival 2023 and opening in Atlanta in June

Some famous Irish troubadours once declared humanity must stridently walk on, emboldened with “all that you can’t leave behind,” and a new movie rummages through the lived-in baggage we tote to each stage of our existence. A story of Seoul mates who may also be soul mates provides the profound connection at the center of Korean-Canadian writer/director Celine Song’s memorable and melancholy debut drama Past Lives (A). Nora and Hae Sung, two deeply connected childhood friends, played as adults by Greta Lee and Teo Yoo, are separated after Nora’s family leaves South Korea to immigrate to Toronto. Decades later, they reunite for several fateful days in her adopted hometown of New York City as they confront love, longing and the choices that impact their destinies. In a way the movie posits we are all immigrants or refugees from a stomping ground in our past where we came of age and where our self-concepts imprinted. Lee and Yoo are phenomenal in the crucial roles, exhibiting an incredible bond even as they share very few sequences together IRL. Both affecting actor John Magaro who humorously gets meta over pillow talk and NYC play crucial supporting roles; Manhattan looks like a dream lensed by cinematographer Shabier Kirchner. Song frames the story with splendid grace and intimacy; her screenplay and directorial choices prove both instantly absorbing and universally resonant. Christopher Bear and Dan Rossen’s lovely music underscores this delicate and sensitive tale gorgeously told. Many of the notions explored in Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy and John Carney’s Once get a fresh examination here. You’ll believe the Korean concept of In-Yun, that who we are today is a version of who we were in our past lives, is indeed working its quiet machinations on the film’s characters. The film will undoubtedly spark conversations we all wish we were having.

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