Friday, May 10, 2024

Past Lives (2023)


I came to Past Lives with possibly more positive expectations than I have for any film of the past few years. I ended up spending much of its running time mentally untangling the action from my somewhat thwarted anticipations, though that is not to say I was struggling with disappointment. 

I suppose I had been counting on something a bit more like early Kieślowski, with potent pauses, intrusions of the uncanny and so on. Maybe the title had suggested that to me. What it turned out to be was a story which took me back to my own brief platonic re-encounters with my first love, three years and then eight years after we first met.
It’s now clear that the semi-autobiographical nature of the material led Celine Song, by necessity, to go light with the metaphysical ostentation. We do however get this line: “It’s an in-yun if two strangers even walk by each other on the street and their clothes accidentally brush. It means there must be something between them in their past lives” — which echoes a narrative conceit that I have lately been toying with: a tension between what one consciously knows about people and places and a more shrouded, yet insistently protrusive form of knowledge, lurking below. 
There are some striking insights here into the drives which underlie changes of continent, from both the perspective of grown-ups and then the growing-ups with transplanted ambitions. Nora’s observation that the apparition of Hae Sung in New York made her feel simultaneously more and less Korean was a gem.
Visually, Song’s debut as a film-maker is a proper treat. Her camera work and shot composition hardly ever falls short of fascinating. And no matter what is happening on screen from a dramatical perspective, she seems to have considered ways to frame each scene in a way which makes it inherently more interesting. My favourite was one where soon-to-be-Nora’s parents are seen in a shambolic shared study area, smoking, and keep the kids in the doorway as they discuss their new anglicised monikers. 

No comments: