Past Lives by Celine Song [6/10]

Movie trailers can prove to be utterly unrepresentative but the taster for Past Lives, the latest from South Korean-Canadian writer/director Celine Song, turns out to be accurate. Nora and Hae Sung are close childhood friends in Seoul until Nora’s family emigrates to Toronto, and two decades later Nora is married to fellow-writer Arthur, living a New York life, when dissatisfied Hae Sung, pining for his memories, finally comes to the big Apple. Will the South Korean notion of in-yun, the interlacing of lives through generations of incarnation, result in Nora and Hae Sung embracing true love? Writing the central plotline in the way I just have, with just that intonation, will alert you that for this viewer, a gentle plot, played out with intense camera focus on faces, partly captivated but partly slid by. The actors are magnificent—Greta Lee as Nora and Ted Yoo as Hae Sung, but especially John Magaro as Arthur, managing to convey in a glance what many actors take an entire film to convey)—and both the cinematography and music dwell sublimely, but throughout the stakes seem low and the emotions dialed down. Certainly, watch Past Lives for a sweet immigrant love story, but I wish it had aspired for more.

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