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Astute, tremendously relatable observations about love, regret and lives not lived permeate the gentle gem Past Lives, culminating in a final scene that will have you crying your heart out.

A recurring motif throughout Celine Song's impressive debut feature is the Korean concept of 'in yun', the providence of 8,000 previous lives lived that lead you to be with the one you are supposed to be with in your current life. Of course, that's not how reality usually pans out, which is why Past Lives resonates so poignantly.

The story opens with inseparable 12-year-olds Nora and Hae Sung. Nora and her parents are about to embark for the USA, so it isn't until 12 years later that they reconnect, through daily Skype calls, only to lose touch again for another decade, when Hae Sung visits a now married Nora in New York and they try to figure out how much their puppy love is still shaping their lives.

It's no spoiler to give away that understated but profound emotions still linger with the both of them, as they reminisce about what could have been and now probably never will be, a subject so universal it could in the wrong hands have been trite, yet Celine Songs handles it with such poetic elegance, subtlety and sensitivity that before you know it Past Lives doesn't just become about Nora and Hae Sung anymore, it becomes about yourself and your own life, love and regret.

Perhaps that is why I was moved to tears by the film's conclusion: even though I was fully invested in the main characters, thanks to the wonderful performances of Great Lee and Teo Yoo, and I was weeping for them, I was also weeping for my own past, current and future lives.

That's what great movies do: they powerfully connect the celluloid image with your own life. And let there be no mistake: Past Lives is a great film, that's right up there with the year's very, very best.

release: 2023

director: Celine Song

starring: Greta Lee, Teo Yoo, John Magaro


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