Past Lives


Relationships can be tricky things. The notion of two beings, finding ways to understand one another, discovering ways of enjoying each other’s company, as opposed to merely enduring it is no easy thing.

It’s amazing how anyone can get along with someone, when you consider the myriad of obstacles that can get in the way in the process.

This striking directorial debut from South Korean-Canadian Celine Song is an examination of a friendship over a number of years, which has an ocean or two that it also has to contend with.

boom reviews Past Lives
Well he certainly scrubs up well.

As children in South Korea, Nora and Hae Sung were the best of friends, fortunate enough to have a real connection between them.

But when Nora’s parents, who were both creative types, announced that the family were immigrating to Canada, their friendship was swiftly terminated, almost overnight.

Years later and Nora (Greta Lee) is a playwright in NYC, and Hae Sung (Teo Yoo) is studying engineering, still in South Korea. Curiosity gets the better of Nora one night whilst reminiscing with her mum online, and she decides to use the internet to see what her old friends are now up to. It’s then that she discovers that Hae Sung has been doing the same thing, looking to get in touch with Nora.

So twelve years on from the last time they saw each other, they find themselves on Skype, face to face. It is clear that whatever was there between them in their youth is still their now, as their friendship rekindles, developing into something more than that. But with their careers going in very different directions, is this pair ever going to be anything other than friends?

boom reviews Past Lives
I'll never forgive him for not winning me a giant teddy bear.

Initially at least, Song’s debut is like a lake of tranquillity, with a calm smooth surface, with no turbulence whatsoever. It isn’t just a quiet film, its whisper quiet. But as it goes on, there is an undercurrent of emotion, the slightest of ripples, which are perhaps amplified against its hushed background, making it somehow all too real.

The film begins with an interesting premise, of people watching 101, as an unseen group in a bar are focusing on three people together, and discussing how they may know one another. The film then flies back in time 24 years to answer exactly that.

It is an examination of a friendship that has been disturbed by distance, that feels, even to the two concerned, that it should be something more, but with neither willing to make the necessary step forward. It is then a friendship of what could have been’s.

Song highlights the fragility of human contact, and that how something that always felt like it was meant to be, just wasn’t, not in this life time at least.

It’s an elegant tome to the fragility of friendships, where words that should have said go unspoken, and where gazes into one another’s eyes say it all.

There’s a subtlety to every aspect of the film, with a pace that despite the passing of time within it, almost stands still.

To a certain extent, it is an existential rom-com, minimalist at that, with little signs of comedy, or the often Hollywood portrayed version of romance. And yet at its heart, is a gut-wrenching truth, one that will certainly ring true for those that have lived it.

It’s very much a grown up film then, as two people search to not only discover the very definition of their relationship, but then come to terms with it.

Song’s film is an extraordinary debut, quietly powerful, that somehow strips back all the noise to reveal a vulnerable quality to the nature of relationships, which we can all relate to. But as this film shows, whether we do or not to the people that count, is another matter entirely.

we give this four out of five