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Past Lives

Past Lives -

Is there a more difficult question or one more likely to make you stop in your tracks than "what if?" Whether there is or not, Celine Song's beautiful, sad and refreshingly real debut demonstrates why it's up there. As soon as academic superstars and rivals Nora (Lee) and Jung (Yoo) connect on their first date, their potential relationship ends before it starts when Nora and her family leave South Korea for North America. Many years later, they reconnect on social media, hit it off like nothing happened, pause for many years more and then connect again. They agree to meet in person, but it's more complicated than Jung would like since Nora is with someone else.

Having lived my whole life in the same country and most of it in the same state, this movie is invaluable to me when it comes to the immigration experience. I appreciate its firsthand account of the process as well as how it makes me understand how everything that happens before can seem like another life. It helps that Greta Lee is so unaffected and natural as the adult Nora (the same goes for Moon Seung-ah, who plays her young version), which are qualities that also describe her moments with Jung. Teo Yoo is just as praiseworthy for how he makes Joon seem like he might spend the rest of his new life longing for his past one. Nora's conversations with him and husband Arthur (Magaro) are like poetry, but what I'll recall most from this movie are the times when nothing is said. From a beautiful long take of Nora and Jung walking through Brooklyn Bridge Park to another where we simply see them looking at each other for a long time, Song demonstrates that looks and gestures can say just as much. As for Magaro, I like how he expresses Arthur's insecurities about feeling like he's in the way, which the movie thankfully resolves in an adult way and that is free of cheap melodrama. It results in a very assured directorial debut that is bound to make you think about all your experiences that made you ask "what if" afterwards. While they're never easy, as Nora's mom puts it before their big move, "if you leave you lose things, but you also gain things, too."