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Past Lives — Young Critics Workshop

Past Lives (Celine Song, 2023)


Leaving one’s own country for another one, often implies leaving a part of oneself behind. In her autobiographical directorial debut Past Lives, the director Celine Song focuses on migrant experiences and the complexities involved in carrying multiple nationalities.

The film highlights the story of the South-Korean Nora who started a new life in New York, and focuses mainly on the rare, but very charged encounters with her childhood lover she left as a twelve-year-old in Seoul. The painful and comical scenes in which both see each other on Skype or in person—when he comes to meet her after 24 years—emphasize the split nature of Nora’s identity. Her friend elicits her Korean aspects, but also points the traits she exchanged and lost; her language is no longer fluent, her thoughts on life’s organization and gender roles have changed…

The ideas contained in the film are at the heart of human experience, especially since the dawn of modernity. Nonetheless, Song misses opportunities to make Past Lives an equally important film. One problem lies in fact that, although it deals with a complex subject matter, the film seems to lack subtlety. This is noticeable in the fact that the characters explicitly express their feelings. The main problem of the film, however, seems to be that its cinematography is secondary to its story. This makes Past Lives a perfectly ‘polite’ film, but one that raises the question whether it could not have worked just as well on paper.