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Past Lives – Movie Review
July 9, 2023

Synopsis: Nora and Hae Sung, two deeply connected childhood friends, part when Nora’s family emigrates from South Korea. Twenty years later, they are reunited for one fateful week as they confront notions of love and destiny.
Director: Celine Song
Stars: Greta Lee, Teo Yoo, John Magaro

For the last few months, I have suffered from FOMO (the fear of missing out). Now, FOMO is a common thing, but for many, it refers to missing out on an event like a party or being able to go to the game or on a trip. My recent bout of FOMO relates specifically to missing out on the film Past Lives. This much-talked-about film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, and while I was accredited for that, I covered the festival virtually. Past Lives was one of the few films you had to be physically in attendance to see. The reaction was extremely positive, but mine was simple . . . FOMO.

Several weeks ago, the Toronto International Film Festival screened the film with the director in attendance, but I could not attend due to scheduling conflicts. The result, again, . . . FOMO.

There is no more missing out; the long-awaited release of Past Lives is here. This is the debut film from writer/director Celine Song.

In the film, we meet Hae Sung and Seung Ah Moon. They are classmates in South Korea. They are close friends who spend a lot of time together and walk home with each other from school each day. Their first date is with each other under their mother’s supervision. It’s very sweet and cute. Then Seung Ah Moon’s family decides to immigrate to Canada.

As one could expect, this is hard on the two children as they have to adapt to life without each other’s friendship.

In Canada, Seung Ah Moon changes her name to Nora. Jump ahead 12 years, Nora lives in New York City, and Hae Sung has completed military service in South Korea. It turns out he hasn’t forgotten about his school-age crush and, with the power of the internet, attempts to track her down.

While there is significant distance between them, they catch up over video chat and start spending time talking and getting to know each other virtually. Their feelings and appreciation come from a genuine place, the innocence of their childhood memories, which is sweet to witness.

As time progresses, they lose touch, and Nora marries Arthur (John Magaro). Hae Sung decides to visit New York, where Nora and Arthur live.

A theme discussed in the film is the concept of In-Yun. The theory is that some people are destined to meet each other, creating a whole inner dialogue on destiny and soulmates.

Celine Song has crafted a brilliant film; there are so many aspects at play: there is the ‘lost love’ angle with Nora and Hae Sung — are their feelings still present, or is it just remaining from their lives as children in Korea?; there is also the cultural aspect of Nora, who has spent a lot of time living in North America and seems distant from her Korean roots, but the presence of Hae Sung serves as a sharp reminder of her background. John Magaro’s character, Arthur, is also very interesting. He is not threatened by Hae Sung’s presence and encourages his wife to meet up with her old friend.

Song’s writing and Magaro’s portrayal of it need to be commended.

Each of these characters is driven by something that Song’s script helps to unravel, leaving a lot left for discussion afterwards.

This film would be normally released in the fall or later, but it will still be an awards season contender and give the summer blockbusters a run for its money. Not in terms of box office results but the sheer quality of the film

I can’t think of another film from 2023 that outshines this wonderful movie; the cinematography, the score, the film editing, it all works so seamlessly.

Past Lives is perfectly suited to sit under the A24 banner. There is something special about this studio. While it has the current Best Picture winner in Everything, Everywhere All at Once, it also boasts films like The Florida ProjectMinariWavesThe Farewell and Moonlight, to name a few.

One would be hard-pressed to find another studio that currently does a better job of exploring human dynamics in strong dialogue-driven films.

Past Lives is a fantastic movie that will stay with you and tug at your heart.

Grade: A-

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