“Past Lives”, Celine Song’s sublime directorial debut

Last week, we watched “Past Lives” directed by Celine Song and we really liked it. In fact, it’s surprising that this is her debut as a director as the film is brilliant in its entirety: the screenplay, the direction, the cast, photography, soundtrack… “Past Lives” (produced and distributed by the successful A24 Films company) is pure beauty for the senses.


“Past Lives” narrates the story of Nora (whose real name is Na Young) and Hae Sung, two 12-year-old Korean children who like each other but lose contact due to the fact that Nora’s family decides to emigrate to Canada. The years go by, (12 to be precise) and one day, Nora discovers that Hae Sung is looking for her and decides to get back in touch with him. From that moment on, they establish an epistolary friendship through Skype in spite of the time difference. And although they don’t confess their feelings for one another, you can tell that they are still very much attracted to each other.

After some time in this rather complicated situation, Nora decides they should stop talking for a while in order to focus on her life because she realises they have different goals. Once again, another twelve years go by and during that time they continue to live their lives until they see each other for the first time, 24 years later, in New York…

“I thought 12 years was an adequate period. I wanted to reflect that sometimes 12 years can flash by and 2 minutes can feel eternal.” Song

An autobiographical story

Debut director, Celine Song, tells us a story that is partially autobiographical, full of sensibility, empathy and tenderness.

A story in which destiny, the choices made, and first love intertwine resulting in a long story of ups and downs, that makes her question her journey through life, despite being happy.

Song emigrated with her parents from Canada when she was 12 years old and later trained as a playwright at Columbia University (New York). She is married to Justin Kuritzkes who is also a writer and playwright, and she herself experienced a scene that was very similar to that shown at the beginning of the film.

In her case, the bar chosen was Speakeasy Please Don’t Tell, and the person that accompanied them was a Korean childhood friend of hers.

“There are memories and life experiences that in a way have helped me in the search to define this story.” Song

Her first childhood love and the toll of absence

One thing the Korean Canadian film maker manages to portray really well is the evolution of that first love when the protagonists have grown up, and how the passing of time and the absence between them has transformed it into their mutual idealization.

Because when reality is not there to wear down the abstract concept of that immaculate first love, it becomes impossible for them to see each other objectively. It’s as if they are trapped in a “what if…?”  impeded by destiny and their own actions.

“The crux of the film resides in those years of absence during which Hae Sung and Nora have no contact.”

What could have been but was not

As well as platonic love, Song also reflects on how people constantly evolve.

She makes it clear that, in spite of everything, we are no longer who we were, and we will not in the future be who we are now. Time does not stand still, and our experiences and circumstances shape our character and our course in life.

However, in “Past Lives” there are many moments in which it seems that the very special chemistry they have, that time has not managed to erase, could become that panacea that will detonate everything… And that is probably thanks to the romantic notion that we all unwittingly have, although it is more fantasy than reality.

In-yeon: the reunion of two souls that were soulmates in past lives

The film makes reference to the Korean word In-yeon. That concept means “providence” or “fate” and that is based on this idea that when two strangers walk by each other on the street and their clothes accidentally brush, it means there must have been something between them in their past lives.

However, immediately after that, Nora confesses to Arthur, her future husband with whom she is having the conversation, that this is in fact a pretext Koreans use to seduce someone…

Maybe in another life…

The end of “Past Lives “ is amazing. It isn’t what you expect, but it is so real it stings because of the unconscious desire to find happiness in a box.

Greta Lee (Nora) and Yoo Teo (Hae Sung) as well as John Magaro who plays Arthur, Nora’s husband, offer magnificent performances throughout the film, and the way they deal with such a complex emotional burden deserves a slow clap.

“This film talks about the different parts of who we are and that we are different depending on the times.” Song

Song and Kuritzkes: a winning couple

Following the excellent response to “Past Lives”A24 has given the green light to Song’s second film: “Materialists”, a romcom set in New York and starring the actor of the moment, Jeremy Allen White.

Justin Kuritzkes, Celine Song’s husband, is also a playwright and screenwriter, as well as a novelist, who has teamed up with film director Luca Guadagnino (“Call Me by Your Name”), for whom he has written his next two films: “Challengers”, starring Zendaya and Josh O’Connor, and “Queer”,  an adaptation of the novel of the same name by William S. Burroughs.

You can’t miss it!

Consult the billboard.

(*) Images provided by Elastica Films.