Stars: Greta Lee, Teo Yoo, John Magaro, Seung Ah Moon, Seung Min Yim
Playwright turned director Celine Song’s debut feature is a strikingly assured, thematically rich and lyrical romantic drama that charts over three parts the relationship between two childhood friends into adulthood.
Na Young (Seung Ah Moon) and Hae Sung (Seung Min Yim) are twelve-year-old pals in South Korea whose friendship seems to be shifting to something more. Their relationship is interrupted however when Na Young’s parents announce they are moving the family to Canada.
Skip forward twelve years to where Na Young is now Nora (Lee), a student and nascent playwright in New York City. Hae Sung (Teo Yoo) meanwhile is a restless young man who has just finished his National Service and is planning to study engineering in China. One day, Nora discover that her old friend has been trying to contact her. She looks Hae Sung up on Facebook and a series of Skype calls follows where the pair start to reflect on what might have been.
In the final part of the triptych, set another twelve years on, Nora has established herself as a playwright and is married to sensitive fellow writer Arthur (Magaro from ‘First Cow’). Hae Sung announces that his is coming to the USA for a vacation and will be in New York.
Drawing on Buddhist themes, Song’s script delivers a moving exploration of roads not taken, and how a shared history can both bring characters together and push them apart, while affording each of the trio a hearing.
Bolstered by woozy photography from Shabier Kirchner, the director maintains a dreamy, transitory feel, while seeming to manipulate time and distance via recurring motifs and judicious editing. At one crucial point when a character confesses their true feelings, the Skype screen freezes as if time has been arrested. No melodrama here though, just quietly revealing moments and telling glances.
The performances are exceptional with Lee and Tee Yoo particularly good at conveying how their twentysomething youthful optimism has shifted into a more world-weary realism twelve years on.
Following the characters, an eclectic score from Christopher Bear and Daniel Rosen of Grizzly Bear ranges from jaunty to hauntingly ambient.
Past Lives is released 8th September
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