Past Lives (2023) – Film review by Andrea Carnevali

Past Lives ⭐⭐⭐⭐½

Nora and Hae Sung are childhood sweethearts separated by fate and thousands of miles, wrested apart after Nora’s family emigrates from South Korea. Twenty years later, they are reunited for one fateful week as they confront notions of love and destiny. On in cinemas now, including Chiswick Cinema.

I guess Award season starts early this year.

This is one of the most gentle, subtle and touching films I’ve seen this year and while I’m certain it might not be to everyone’s taste (it’s certainly not one for the action/adventure blockbusters crowds, nor for the Barbie-lovers out there) it is definitely one of those who will stay with you.

The story starts with two childhood friends Na Young and Hae Sung, in South Korea, who are separated at the age of 12 when the family of Na Young emigrates to Canada. Years later, the two reconnects: Na Young (she now goes by the name of Nora) lives in New York, while Hae Sung having just finished his mandatory military service, still lives in Seoul.

The story itself may be fairly simple, but it’s filled with so many ideas and so much heart, that by the end, I was struggling to fight a few tears.

It’s a tender film about love, and the choices one makes in life. It’s about destiny, belonging, nostalgia, self-discovery and that loneliness that at times one can feel in big cities (like New York or Seoul in this case), whether it’s your own or not.

It may talk about Korean people, but its messages and themes are universal. And it might even speak louder if, like me, you happen to come from another country too.

Past Lives is a film that proves, among many other things, that silences and pauses can be much more powerful than any line of dialogue.

The main cast delivers some beautiful and nuanced portrayals, bringing each character to life with real depth and authenticity

The looks between the leads, whether through a computer screen, or eventually in front of each other are so charged with meanings, questions, regrets, repressed emotions, unspoken words.

The emotional depth that the film brings is obviously a testament to writer/director Celine who is able to capture it all with great maturity and lightness of touch.

Hard to believe that this is her film.

Her visual style seems effortless, with every frame meticulously composed and beautifully lit, every transition carefully judged and once again, every pause carefully placed.

A cinematic experience that is both visually mesmerizingly, stunning and emotionally profound and resonant.

It’s a film that asks questions, but doesn’t necessarily answer them all, though it’ll give you a lot to chew on, eventually allowing you to draw your own conclusions, which will linger with you long after the credits roll.

Andrea Carnevali is a Bafta winning film maker who lives in Chiswick, and a co-creator of the Chiswick In Film festival.

Past Lives is out in cinemas across the country.

See all Andrea’s film reviews here: Film reviews by Andrea Carnevali