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Mark Llobrera

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Cover art forPast Lives

Past Lives

Dec 29, 2023

I can see why some of the criticism of this movie as slight (or underwritten) exists—some key characterization is communicated via dialogue (Nora’s ambition, Hae Sung’s childhood kindness for Na Young) that I would have preferred to see dramatized onscreen. Instead we get quite a lot of melancholy score and compositions that sometimes feel like screengrab/GIF bait.

But if you’ve had an immigrant experience like Nora’s? Then maybe the film doesn’t have to do a lot of that storytelling work—if you’ve lived some version of her life you can instantly relate. That’s what the film instantly brought to the surface for me. Remembering how I had to repeatedly start over from scratch in new places: learning a new language, making new friends. How it can be jarring to return to a version of yourself that was very much tied to a time and place. The way that Hae Sung knows Nora as Na Young but not even her mother still calls her that? Whew. I don’t think it’s a prerequisite for tuning into this film’s particular wavelength, but there’s something to be said for tapping into really visceral memory and feelings.

Or maybe I’m just a sucker for movies like this, about love that cannot be. Give me a film in the vicinity of In the Mood For Love/Brief Encounter/Portrait of a Lady on Fire/Age of Innocence and I will probably love it [insert nicole-kidman-heartbreakfeelsgood dot gif]

Also: this is Celine Song’s first feature? My god.