Past Lives

Past Lives ★★★

All in all, a bit of a mixed bag. The premise is intriguing and the emotional arc Song grafts onto it is strong – a really quite beautiful subversion of the story we've been sold and told to root for and replicate in our real lives by countless "Hollywood endings." Sometimes destiny, if there even is such a thing, is less straightforward, less obvious, less neat than a tale of long-lost love; sometimes, that which one conventionally associates with the negatively connotated act of "settling" has a less flashy kind of beauty to it that doesn't lend itself as readily to a big-screen romance. One of my favourite gestures to that effect in the film – in part because Song never actually returns to that moment – is the strong implication that the guy who compliments Nora's writing in college is Arthur: it's nowhere near as grandiose a connection as the childhood bond between Hae Sung and Nora, but it's a connection nevertheless – and one that speaks to why these two characters must be thought of as being "meant for each other" too, even if their story doesn't immediately suggest it.

Another reason why I enjoyed that moment in particular, however, is that it's one of only a handful where the film lets go of the viewer's hand, where it doesn't guide them right up to the feeling it wants them to feel and the conclusion it wants them to draw (without actually going all the way – there is a lot of coy "emotion by association" happening here). For as strong as Song's script is conceptually, it's fairly middling when it comes to such bread-and-butter issues as characterisation, dialogue, and narrative progression. Nora, Hae Sung, and Arthur are barely finished sketches that lack the specificity to render their emotional turmoil tangible enough for the film's project to really come off. This may be deliberate to some extent, given that they are functionally the only characters, but the results struck me as strangely unevocative – like reading a theoretical breakdown of a romantic drama film rather than actually watching one. Their speech, too, is mostly flat and prone to platitudes, which is especially odd when one considers the scene they're situated in. And then there are the numerous sequences, most notably Nora and Hae Sung's Skype calls, that do little more than narrate emotional states straight at the viewer, without rooting them in the wider context of the characters' social life. Lee, Yoo, and Magaro manage to fill some of the gaps in Song's writing, but they remain palpable throughout.

It's fine.

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