Movie review: Past Lives

Written and directed by Celine Song

The movie Past Lives is about Nora and Hae Sung, two close childhood friends in South Korea. When Nora’s family emigrates to North America, Nora (Greta Lee) pursues her dreams of being a writer. She eventually marries Arthur Zaturansky (John Magaro), an American.

Hae Sung  (Teo Yoo) comes to New York City, where Nora and Arthur live. Nora and Hae Sung see each other in person for the first time in two decades. Conversation ensues, as the IMDb description puts it, “They confront notions of love and destiny.”

My wife and I liked this movie we saw at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany a LOT.

Before we saw it, James Preller, an author of my acquaintance, wrote: “A beautiful, slow-moving, subtle film that has lingered with me. About life, and loss, and choices, and ambition — and, at its heart, an immigration story. A love story. Three main characters and they are all treated with compassion and respect. This will easily be one of my best films of the year. Saw it in a near-empty theater. Written and directed by a Canadian woman, Celine Song.”

A thumbs-down?

As is often the case when I like a movie, I look at the negative reviews. There were four among the 175 critics listed on Rotten Tomatoes. The one that stood out for me was by Alison Willmore from New York magazine in an article entitled Past Lives Is Tasteful, Understated, and Unconvincing.

” There’s a disconcerting shrewdness underneath its patina of tastefulness — it’s too calculating to achieve the transcendent almost-romance it strives for but never inhabits.”

It is tasteful (whatever that means.) It’s understated, maybe a little slow, which was fine by me. Someone else suggested cutting 15 minutes from its 1:43 running time, but I’m not feeling it.

As for “unconvincing,” I’m in the opposite camp. It rang true for my wife and me. And we never moved over 11,000 km (over 6800 miles) from home to a place with a different language and culture.

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