Review: Past Lives

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“There’s a word in Korean: 인연 [in-yeon]. It means ‘providence’ or ‘fate’.”

Past Lives, a debut feature film from Korean-Canadian writer-director Celine Song, is a beautifully understated film that explores a what-if scenario across decades and continents.  It is a tale of friendship, regrets, and cultural “bungee-cords” that are very common parts of the immigrant experience. 

Nora (Greta Lee) and Hae Sung (Teo Yoo) meet and share a playground crush as children in Seol.  Nora’s parents move to Canada and they lose contact.  Over a decade later, Nora is an aspiring playwright in New York, married to Arthur (John Magaro).  Hae Sung connects with Nora over Facebook out of the blue, and they start chatting on Skype.  They seem to reconnect instantly as if they were the kids who first locked eyes with each other.  He decides to make the trip to the US to visit her.  

“Past Lives” is a quiet movie, skillfully shot by cinematographer Shabier Kirchner.  So much is communicated in how each shot is framed—from shots framed from a little too far away, to extreme close-ups on a look that lingers a little too long. Watching this film forces the kind of self-reflection that lasts long after the movie ends. Check it out if you get a chance.

Oscar nominations in 2024: “Past Lives” is nominated for best picture, best original screenplay.

More info & links:

  • Director: Celine Song
  • Cast: Greta Lee, Teo Yoo, John Magaro
  • Past Lives on IMDB

Jith Paul

Web Designer, Editor, Film Reviewer

Jith Paul is an independent filmmaker based in Ottawa. While pursuing a career as a software engineer, he decided to take a detour to follow his passion for film and filmmaking, establishing Treepot Media in 2010.

He is a co-founder of the Ottawa Canadian Film Festival, and editor of the film613 blog.

When he is not busy fighting crime, he coordinates the efforts of an international team of software developers and service providers as the Team Lead for Digital Development at CPAC, the Cable Public Affairs Channel.