Sunday, September 24, 2023

Past Lives

Celine Song: Past Lives / 패스트 라이브즈 (US/KO 2023) with Teo Yoo (Hae-sung) and Greta Lee (Nora).

패스트 라이브즈
Festival Hit / Journey / Memory / Female Stories / LoveGrief
Theme: Gala Films
Country: South Korea
Director: Celine Song
Screenplay: Celine Song
Starring: Greta Lee, Teo Yoo, John Magaro, Moon Seung-ah, Leem Seung-min, Ji Hye Yoon
Production: David Hinojosa, Christine Vachon, Pamela Koffler / Killer Films, 2AM, CJ ENM Co.
Duration: 105 min
Rating: S
Bio Rex, Love & Anarchy: Helsinki International Film Festival (HIFF) Closing Gala, 24 Sep 2023

Inari Ylinen (HIFF 2023): " R&A:n päätöselokuvana nähdään koreankanadalaisen Celine Songin jo vuoden ehdottomiin elokuvatapauksiin lukeutuva, suitsutettu esikoisteos Past Lives. Sundancen elokuvajuhlilla kansainvälisen ensi-iltansa saanut elokuva kertoo yksinkertaisen mutta pakahduttavan tarinan kohtalosta ja koti-ikävästä. "

" Hae-sung ja Na-young ovat soulilaisia 12-vuotiaita, samalla luokalla ja hivenen ihastuneita toisiinsa. Kun Na-youngin perhe muuttaa Kanadaan, hän saa uudeksi nimekseen Nora ja kaksikon yhteys katkeaa. Kun he lopulta kohtaavat toisensa uudelleen aikuisiällä, elämä on vienyt eri suuntiin: Nora on New Yorkissa elävä näytelmäkirjailija ja naimisissa, Hae-sung työskentelee insinöörinä Koreassa. Silti jokin vetää heitä kohti toisiaan. "

" ”Korean kielen sana in-yun tarkoittaa kohtaloa”, Nora kertoo amerikkalaiselle puolisolleen. Rakastuneiden parien sielut ovat koskettaneet toisiaan tuhansissa entisissä elämissä, sanotaan. "

" Näytelmäkirjailijana uransa aloittanut Song ottaa debyytillään elokuvamuodon haltuun kertaheitolla. Past Livesissa on kaikuja sellaisista elokuvan suurista, katkeransuloisista rakkaustarinoista kuin Wong Kar-wain In the Mood for Love ja Richard Linklaterin Rakkautta ennen auringonlaskua, mutta samalla se on kirpaisevan henkilökohtainen ja sen vuoksi ainutlaatuinen. " Inari Ylinen

Quoted by HIFF 2023: Ann Hornaday: " Celine Song makes a quietly spectacular writing-directing debut with Past Lives, a lyrical slow burn of a film that expertly holds back wellsprings of emotion, until it unleashes a deluge. The premise is deceptively simple: Nora and Hae Sung are childhood sweethearts growing up together in South Korea when her parents move the family to Canada. Twelve years later, when Nora is in her 20s and trying to make it as a writer in New York, the two reconnect online. " Ann Hornaday, Washington Post

Quoted by HIFF 2023: Peter Debruge: " Song, who was born in South Korea, draws on her own history and culture in crafting this truly special feature debut, a treasure that is at once achingly autobiographical and disarmingly universal. Her script — so often understated, only to erupt with words when called for — introduces the notion of “In-Yun” to Western viewers, defining it as the universe’s way of reuniting souls who shared a connection in previous lives. It’s a lovely idea, served up so delicately, this low-key A24 offering could be the spiritual response to last year’s Everything Everywhere All at Once. Where the Daniels’ movie took the bewildering multiverse approach, Past Lives is simple, slow and direct. Song’s characters are free to speculate, but there’s no going back. Or is there? " Peter Debruge, Variety

Language: English, Korean
Subtitles: Swedish, Finnish
Distribution: Cinemanse
Print source: Cinemanse
Cinematography: Shabier Kirchner
Editing: Keith Fraase
Music: Christopher Bear, Daniel Rossen
Sound: Daniel Timmons, Dimitri Kouri
Production design: Grace Yun
Costume design: Katina Danabassis
Make-up: Ivy Ermert, Sarah Graalman, Tayler Winer

Shot on 35 mm.

AA: Celine Song's Past Lives is a mature and refined tale of unfulfilled love. We can sense oceans of emotion swelling, but they are conveyed with great tact and restraint. Perhaps Celine Song draws from a tradition of Asian sophistication, familiar from films ranging from Mu Fei's Spring in a Small Town to Yasujiro Ozu and Wong Kar-wai. Or American masters dating back to John M. Stahl (When Tomorrow Comes) and Leo McCarey (Love Affair).

Hae-sung and Na-young, schoolmates in Seoul, are separated at age 12, when Na-young's family moves to Toronto. 12 years later, social media makes it easier to find long lost friends across continents. Hae-sung attempts in vain to find Na-young and succeeds only when he finds out that she has changed her name to Nora and moved to New York. There is an intense period of online communication until Nora interrupts it. Beware of a remote love affair. In a writers' residence in Montaik Nora meets Arthur and marries him. "If you are not with the one you love, love the one you're with" *. 

After another 12 years, Hae-sung at last visits New York, and the childhood friends meet again, but everything has changed. The former children are grown-ups now. The world is not the same. Childhood attachments, young love and mature relationships are three different conditions of being. There is now also a difference of language and culture. The Na-young of 24 years ago does not exist anymore.

The issue of "the road not taken" is central to the narrative. An eternal question, it has never been more topical than in our age of Tinder and "fear of missing out". Arthur is very concerned when Hae-sung comes. He asks whether he is "the evil white American standing in the way of destiny". But Nora's stand is clear and firm: "That's my life. I'm living it with you". Arthur confesses to her that "You make my life so much bigger".

I like the gravity with which Celine Song discusses the language issue. Arthur knows that Nora dreams in Korean, because that is the only language she uses when she speaks in her sleep. Arthur makes a point of studying Korean, because "You dream in a language I can't understand. It's like there's this whole place inside you I can't go." Nora dismisses her dream speech as nonsense. Yes, but. (My personal conviction is that lovers should learn each other's native languages, because they are infinite treasures that cannot be compensated by relay languages. In our native language we carry most of the inner world of our unconscious. We are different, deeper beings in our native languages.)

The title of the film is Past Lives, and its layout in the opening credits evokes Terence Davies's Distant Voices, Still Lives **. The philosophical context in Celine Song's narrative is the Korean term in-yun  (인연) *** , which means "past lives" but refers also to providence and fate. "But it is specifically about relationships between people. I think it comes from Buddhism and reincarnation. It's an in-yun if two strangers even walk past each other in a street and their clothes accidentally brush, because it means that there must have been something between them in their past lives. If two people get married they say it's because there have been 8000 layers of in-yun over 8000 lifetimes", says Nora to Arthur.

On the other hand, there is wisdom in the film's philosophy of marriage. Romantic marriages can end in disaster. Marriages of convenience can become happy and everlasting.

Seeing this film for the first time, I was questioning whether the tale of Nora might turn out to be one of a hollow person who loses her identity in immigration, attaching herself to empty, external and other-directed goals of winning a Nobel prize, a Pulitzer prize, a Tony prize... But in the final third, when Hae-sung visits New York, the movie rises to a new level, and we gain new insight in the three main characters. Perhaps Hae-sung is the catalyst: they all change, their identity changes, or perhaps they only now become fully aware of how they have changed. We do not see ourselves in a looking-glass, only in the living mirror of other people.

* Stephen Stills quoting Billy Preston.

** In Terence Davies's main credits, there is a title card, "Distant Voices", and a separate one: "Still Lives". Markku Salmi use to fret over the problem of registering this correctly in the BFI filmography. In the opening credits of Past Lives, there is a long distance between "Past" and "Lives" emphasizing the separation between the words.

*** 인연 , a Sino-Korean word from 因緣 . The word has different uses and meanings. It is also a male name. And a different Buddhist term meaning "cause", "nidana".

NB. There is a light entertainment film called Inyeon / 인연 / Destiny (KO 1997) directed by Hwang-rim Lee.

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