It speaks to the immense quality of Past Lives that, despite premiering at Sundance earlier in the year, Berlin’s selection committee elected it qualifiable to run in their Competition (rather than one of the sections usually more receptive to “double-booking”). Now audiences at Sundance London are getting a sneak peek ahead of its UK release later this year.
The feature opens in a New York bar, introducing protagonists Nora (Greta Lee), Hae Sung (Teo Yoo) and Arthur (John Magaro) via off-screen speculation from other patrons as to who they might be to each other. The narrative then jumps back in time and eventually reveals that there is a dash of truth to all of these guesses. Nora was born in Korea, where Hae Sung was her childhood sweetheart, their young love cut short when Nora’s family migrates to Canada. In her 20s, she moves to the US and at a writing residency she meets Arthur, whom she ends up marrying. The night at the bar is the first time the two men in her life meet.
It is utterly astonishing that this marks playwright Celine Song’s first feature as a director, since it is as close to perfect as any film may come. The script ingeniously balances heartbreak, humour and humanity with cultural as well as personal interpretations of fate, without ever coming across as anything but genuine. The performances (by all three protagonists) are equally true to life and emotionally engaging on a spectrum of feelings. Few eyes have stayed dry during the film’s screenings. Framed with the expertise of someone who has been communicating in moving images for years, her use of cinematography stunningly encapsulates the characters in the spaces they share and all that is left unspoken between them.
Song’s dazzling take on reincarnations of the self within the same lifetime is easily the best picture of 2023 so far, and we will surely be hearing more about it when it lands in UK cinemas in September.
Past Lives is released nationwide on 8th September 2023.
For further information about Sundance London 2023 visit here.
Read more reviews from the festival here.
Watch the trailer for Past Lives here: