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Past Lives (2023)–You Only Remember One

Past Lives movie

In Celine Song’s directorial debut, the Academy-Award nominated Past Lives, we see an exploration of a long-distance friendship between two childhood playmates  from South Korea.  Nora (Greta Lee) moves with her family to Canada when she is twelve years old.  Her friend Hae-sung (Teo Yoo), still yearning for her years afterwards, remains in South Korea pursuing his professional career as a lawyer.  While both have a shared past as the closest of friends, as adults that is insufficient for a long-sought reunion by Hae-sung. Anything but bittersweet and  frustrating, nonetheless the outcome is  surprisingly transforming.  

Time  passes.   Nora meets a fellow-writer, Arthur (John Magaro), eventually they  marry, and now are living in New York, and enjoying life together.  Enter Hae-sung, wishing to reconnect with Nora, although knowing that is not really possible since she is married.  What develops is a difficult series of conversations among the three adults.  Arthur feels excluded as a non-Korean speaker when the two friends are engaged in lively, intimately friendly conversation in their living room.  Nora reassures him of their marriage, but doubts always remain.  Forced to confront past conflicts, misunderstandings, and misinterpreted feelings,  all three –while respecting each other,–do not know how to make room for each other.  Arthur likes Hae-sung and their mutual admiration yields ever more perplexing emotions.  

Past LIves is about remembering and realizing we each have a different past.  Both revealing and highly thought-provoking, what is memory?  And  what is a memory of a memory? And what is fantasy?  The impact of memory on the present is profound and sometimes destructive.    Nothing lasts.  The past is only old dreams. Old habits we sometimes don’t know we have and often don’t even remember.

While Past LIves pays special attention to the relationship between past and present, sometimes this viewer felt the need to be shaken awake!  There is sometimes an almost suffocating miasma in  the silence between Nora and either Hae-sung or Arthur.  While this may be the intention of the director, the pacing is off.

Watch for originality, but realize that this is a very slow-moving, sometimes lethargic film.

Availability:  Hulu and Paramount+

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