Friday, July 14, 2023

Past Lives (2023)

I never expected liking your husband would be so painful

The film is the story of two people over 24 years. It begins when they are ten and Na Young, soon to be Nora in America, is getting ready to leave for America with her family, leaving behind her best friend Hae Sung. Twelve years later the pair reconnect on the internet. She is a writer in New York, he is a student in Korea. As the relationship heats up it is broken off. Jump ahead twelve more years and the pair is going to meet for the first time in over two decades.

This is a very good film. It is for the most part an intriguing look at the roads we've taken and the past lives we've lead getting to this point. It's a film that punched me square in the face a couple of times with an unexpected line that opened up a portion of my life. 

While I have numerous friends who are madly in love with the film I would be hard pressed to say this is one of the best films of the year. That's not a slap at the film, only a statement that I went into the film with some baggage that made more aware of some of the flaws in the film. It shows signs of writer director Celine Song's theatrical background with many sequences playing out as if they were on a stage.

The problem is the film has some weird plot turns that don't fully make sense.  For example Nora reconnects with Hae Sung after 12 years and then at a certain point suddenly demands to know when he can get to see her in NYC. He says a year and a half before he will be able to leave. Mean while she can not leave the US for a year so she instantly breaks off the "relationship" goes to Montauk then takes up with Arthur whom she marries... and it all feels contrived (Song moving people as if they are in the theater). More so the details of why and how Nora and Arthur are together, when he feels completely wrong for her from the minute we meet him, and more so after 12 years together where he seems rather clingy.  While you can understand why they are a friends, there is also a stronger feeling that they don't belong as a married couple, more so when you watch how she looks at Hae.

It doesn't help that Arthur is largely a cipher who is madly in love with Nora, which to a large degree is what Hae Sung is too. We know he is a writer, and he seems somewhat charming but after seeing how Nora and Hae interact he seems the wrong sort of a fellow. It's almost as if writer director Celine Song could only write men as love sick puppies, except that the other men in the film are not that. It probably would have worked if Arthur wasn't the first guy Nora meets after breaking up with Hae, but he is and I was left scratching my head.

Additionally the second span of 12 years, which bring us from the break up into the moment where the film begins is full of contradictions. If you listen to what Hae and Nora say about what happened over time, staying in touch or not, details don't seem to fit together. It's as if Song needed to have certain things to happen in the past to show how the pair has grown and so the ending would work so she threw out odd lines for color but never thought if they fit together.

I'm also not certain the ending work, at least as far as Nora goes. I don't think she, or the film, earned the emotion, more so since her character's choices make zero sense if you think about them from the instant she effectively dumps Hae Sung years back. It also doesn't really seem work dramatically because of the way Nora looks and behaves regarding Hae. 

Watching the film I was well aware that this is the work of a playwright and I kept thinking that all the odd twists would have worked better in the limited confines of the theater, however in a film where anything is possible and you aren't confined by time or space they felt too controlled.

Despite picking the film apart, I do really like the film and it's worth a look

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