Past Lives

Past Lives ★★★★

Another entry in a decade-plus trend of deeply earnest, profoundly polite indie dramas, where everyone is reasonable, nothing extravagantly cinematic happens, and emotional nuance is the total that’s greater than the sum of the parts. This one, like so many, is also heavily indebted to Wong Kar-Wai and, even more so, to Richard Linklater. (“Past Lives” is, in one movie, practically the Korean/American equivalent of two or maybe even three installments in that director’s “Before” trilogy. Fast forward twelve years and I’ll bet we see a “Future Lives” sequel that revisits these characters in middle age.) This recipe in other hands would turn to mush, but there’s no denying that director Celine Song has much more than a superficial familiarity with her inspirations, because she builds the slow burn heart break here with expert, exquisite control. The principals are wonderful, too; you root for them through their repression and distance, and in the final scene, when things finally come down to a painful emotional climax, you can’t help but share their despair.

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