This film was viewed at the 49th Seattle International Film Festival
Synopsis: Nora and Hae Sung, two deeply connected childhood friends, are wrest apart after Nora's family emigrates from South Korea. Decades later, they are reunited for one fateful week as they confront destiny, love and the choices that make a life.
Coming into the Seattle International Film Festival I had only been aware of a handful of films being shown. One of these films happened to be Past Lives, an A24 production being shown during the opening night festivities. Now I'm not entirely sure where the rest of the film critics got to see it before this (Cannes or something idk I wasn't invited) but I saw nothing but glowing reviews for it. After seeing the film, it all kind of made sense as to why.
Past Lives is the real deal. Celine Song is the real deal. Shit, the whole cast is the real deal! I can't even express in normal words how much I adored this film.
Song, coming from play writing and theatre productions, shows such a strong command of the medium of film it is bonkers this is her first feature film. Her camera control, framing, blocking everything is simply superb. Early in the film a young Nora (Moon Seung-ah) spends one last day with her childhood friend/crush Hae Sung (Leem Seung-min) playing as young children do. But the intricacies of the scenery, two statues facing each other, stuck with me. Faces of stone making eye contact, so close together, while these kids spend one final day in the warmth of their innocence and friendship. It was a beautiful moment to witness. A simple highlight of the bonds children make with one another that may or may not last. The ephemeral memories that can be so heartwarming. Yet can also yank every tear out of your body.
Fast forward to an older Hae Sung (Teo Yoo) visiting Nora (Greta Lee) in New York, there are two new statues behind them. Full bodies of sculpted people, but facing away from each other, not towards like before. These simple decorations and settings scream of elegant themes that Song peppers throughout her films. They feel and appear as carefully calculated pieces because they are, and that is likely Song's experience as a playwright and setting a scene. Normally, small bits and pieces like this might be overlooked by me on a first viewing of a film for sure. However, Song's direction combined with the emotion of the scene point out intricate messages throughout the frame. Alerting you to minor pieces of intriguing detail that elevate everything around you. It's an exciting addition to the film, one that I fully loved to see.
Not only is Song directing the hell out of this film, but the undeniable chemistry between Lee and Yoo is out of this world. Their quiet, effortless magnetism on screen turns this love story into a full blooming romance. But not in a traditional way. It is simultaneously encouraging and DEFCON 1 levels of heartbreaking. I don't think I've ever rooted for yet against characters ever before? It's a complex love story that bridges decades, something that as I'm writing about now I'm tearing up thinking of the delicate layers of Hae Sung and Nora's attraction. An attraction that doesn't even only mean romantic.
Then you have Arthur (John Magaro). Arthur is Nora's husband by the time of her and Hae Sung's third rendezvous, the final meeting in New York. Magaro has oft been a background character, but when given the opportunity to shine, he is a supernova. His careful, subtle hesitation of Hae Sung is a gorgeous display of a quiet battle against jealousy. Without many lines Magaro can effectively showcase such a range of emotions, much like the statues you're drawn to his feelings while watching Nora and Hae Sung talk with affection at the bar. He commands the screen in a lovely way, and his "what a story this would make" monologue may be the most powerful bit of the film. Aside from the beauty of in yun of course.
Throughout the film your heart is pulled in various directions through all of my aforementioned points. But the true gut punch, is the finale. Boy what a finale. Saying goodbye for one last time Hae Sung is about to get into his taxi and he turns and says "Hey" one last time.
A cut back to them as kids overlays across the screen for a moments notice.
And everyone begins to cry.
I can't even describe the emotional level of that shot. Song knew exactly what she was doing and destroyed mountains by doing it. An avalanche of every melancholic goodbye anyone has ever shared with you floods your brain as you watch Nora and Hae Sung begin their own goodbye of finality. A gorgeous, perfectly timed and placed moment that is seared in my brain, and heart.
Past Lives is not only one of the best films I saw at the SIFF, but also this year! Stay tuned for my ultimate ranking of films I've seen this year because I think I keep saying that. Unless I just keep watching good movies. What can I say, I have immaculate taste. Anyway, the sheer fact that this is Celine Song's feature length debut is unfuckingbelievable. Pardon my French, but this has to be in the pantheon of debut films. It just has to be! After trying to think of something I didn't like about the film or something that she could improve on I really have no notes. Not that I'm the appropriate coach or anything, but this is as great as a movie as you can get. A24 really has struck gold here with giving Song the ability to make the movie she wanted to and I hope to see this movie maybe 20 more times over the rest of this year.
I could use another good cry.
When in doubt, get some clarity. Got a boy in your head from your childhood and it's unclear on if you've been in love for the past 20 some years or just being nostalgic?? Well then you better get some clarity! Lucky for us, Bale Breaker Brewing delivers clarity in an easily consumable form, the Clarity Rarity Hazy IPA! Celine Song's murky relationship between Nora and Hae Sung for majority of the film is the perfect accompaniment to a hazy IPA which color reflects that of the dubious throuple that might be unfolding on screen. Not to make this sound like a Basic Instinct thrill-erotica but the mystique of Nora's internal struggles of feelings toward Hae Sung play wonderfully into the cloudy citrus aromas and feel of the Clarity Rarity.
What's even better about the Clarity Rarity is that it's an ever-changing series of beer. Beers that were available in the Bale Breaker taproom that become huge hits then become canned releases in this series. I may or may not have paired one of these with another film, I need to keep track of this better, but this iteration of the series is apropos for Song's exquisite film. As the series itself changes with the new beers, so does Nora and Hae Sung's relationship from internal and external factors. Ultimately, a final meeting results in the rare clarity that we crave as humans. Equal parts heartbreaking and relieving, the Clarity Rarity Hazy IPA is the perfect companion to walk you through your tears. Climbing the mountain of emotion and emerging on the otherside of the film as a changed person.
I couldn't be more serious about that, go see this film!
And drink this beer!!