Past Lives is a 2023 romantic drama film written and directed by Celine Song in her feature directorial debut. Starring Greta Lee, Teo Yoo, and John Magaro, the film follows the relationship between two childhood friends over the course of 24 years, as they contemplate their relationship when they grow apart to have different lives. The plot is semi-autobiographical and inspired by real events from Song's life.
|Directed by||Celine Song|
|Written by||Celine Song|
|Edited by||Keith Fraase|
|Box office||$19.9 million|
Past Lives had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 21, 2023, and was released theatrically in the United States on June 2, 2023. The film has received universal critical acclaim, with praise directed towards Song's writing and direction, visual style, and lead performances of Lee, Yoo, and Magaro.
In Seoul, South Korea, Na Young and Hae Sung are twelve-year-old classmates who develop an attraction for one another and go on a date set up by their parents. Shortly thereafter, Na Young's family emigrates to Toronto, where she changes her name to Nora Moon, and the two lose contact.
Twelve years later in 2012, Hae Sung has finished his military service and Nora has emigrated to New York City. One day, Nora discovers on Facebook that Hae Sung had commented on a post that he was looking for Na Young, unaware of her name change. They reconnect through video calls but are unable to visit each other, as Nora will attend a writer's retreat in Montauk and Hae Sung is moving to China for a language exchange. Eventually, Nora tells Hae Sung they should stop talking for a while, as she wants to focus on her writing and her life in New York. At her retreat, Nora meets Arthur Zaturansky and they fall in love. Hae Sung also meets a woman, and they begin dating.
Twelve years later, Arthur and Nora are married and living in New York. Hae Sung, now no longer with his girlfriend, goes to meet Nora there. Arthur wonders if he is a roadblock in their own imperfect love story, since he admits harboring doubts that Nora may have married him to secure a green card for US residency; Nora affirms that she loves Arthur. The following night, the three go out to dinner. Initially, Nora translates each dialogue, but eventually speaks with Hae Sung exclusively in Korean. He wonders what they were to each other in their past lives, and what would have happened if she had never left South Korea and they stayed together. When Nora goes to the bathroom, Hae Sung apologizes to Arthur for speaking alone with Nora, but Arthur says he is glad he met him.
They return to Arthur and Nora's apartment. Hae Sung invites them to visit him in South Korea and calls an Uber. Nora waits with him, and as they incessantly stare at each other, the Uber arrives. Hae Sung wonders if maybe they are currently experiencing a past life, and asks Nora what their relationship will be in their next life. She says she does not know. Hae Sung says, "I'll see you then." He leaves in the car and she walks back to her apartment, crying in Arthur's arms.
- Greta Lee as Nora
- Seung Ah Moon as young Nora
- Teo Yoo as Hae Sung
- Seung Min Yim as young Hae Sung
- John Magaro as Arthur
- Ji Hye Yoon as Nora's mom
- Choi Won-young as Nora's dad
- Min Young Ahn as Hae Sung's mom
- Jojo T. Gibbs as Janice
- Emily Cass McDonnell as Rachel
- Federico Rodriguez as Robert
- Conrad Schott as Peter
- Kristen Sieh as Heather
In January 2020, it was announced Choi Woo-shik would star in the film, with Celine Song set to direct from a screenplay she wrote, and A24 set to produce and distribute alongside Killer Films and CJ ENM. In August 2021, Greta Lee, Teo Yoo, and John Magaro joined the cast of the film, with Yoo replacing Choi.
The film had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 21, 2023. It was also screened at 73rd Berlin International Film Festival on February 19, 2023. Later that month, StudioCanal and CJ ENM were among the distributors acquiring the international distribution rights. It was the opening film for the 2023 Seattle International Film Festival. Past Lives had a limited theatrical release in the United States on June 2, 2023, before expanding to more theaters on June 9; it was released nationwide on June 23.
Box office edit
Critical response edit
On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 97% of 255 critics' reviews are positive, with an average rating of 9.2/10. The website's consensus reads: "A remarkable debut for writer-director Celine Song, Past Lives uses the bonds between its sensitively sketched central characters to support trenchant observations on the human condition." Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 94 out of 100, based on 51 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".
Manola Darhgis writing for The New York Times compared the film to French romantic cinema complimenting its restraint in the presentation of its main themes stating: "The movie’s modesty — its intimacy, human scale, humble locations and lack of visual oomph — is one of its strengths. The characters live in homes that are pleasant yet ordinary, the kind that you can imagine hanging out in, the kind you want to hang out in. There are few big, look-at-me details, though you might notice a poster for Jacques Rivette’s 1974 classic Céline and Julie Go Boating in Nora’s father’s home office in Seoul." Writing in The Guardian, Peter Bradshaw was fulsome in his praise of the film comparing it to those of Richard Linklater, Noah Baumbach, and Greta Gerwig. He said of the film: "Past Lives is a glorious date movie, and a movie for every occasion, too. As ever with films like this, there is an auxiliary pleasure in wondering how much of her own past life Song has used. It's a must-see." Collider ranked it number 7 on its list of the "20 Best Drama Movies of the 2020s So Far," calling it "a story that could only exist because of modern circumstances, but feels timeless in its approach. How does someone choose between two lovers, one that represents the most fruitful days of her youth, and the other someone she has grown to love as part of her reality? Celine Song examines these critical conversations through the perspective of an immigrant story."
|Award||Date of ceremony||Category||Nominee(s)||Result||Ref.|
|Asia Pacific Screen Awards||November 3, 2023||Best Director||Celine Song||Won|||
|Berlin International Film Festival||February 25, 2023||Golden Bear||Nominated|||
|British Independent Film Awards||December 3, 2023||Best International Independent Film||Celine Song, David Hinojosa, Christine Vachon, and Pamela Koffler||Pending|||
|Celebration of Cinema & Television||December 4, 2023||Actress Award (Film)||Greta Lee||Won|||
|Cinema Eye Honors||January 12, 2024||Heterodox Award||Past Lives||Pending|||
|Deauville American Film Festival||September 9, 2023||Grand Special Prize||Nominated|||
|Film Fest Ghent||October 21, 2023||Best Film||Nominated|||
|Special Mention||Greta Lee, Yoo Teo and John Magaro||Won|||
|Golden Trailer Awards||June 29, 2023||Best Romance||"Fate" (Mark Wollen & Associates)||Won|||
|Gotham Independent Film Awards||November 27, 2023||Best Feature||Past Lives||Won|||
|Breakthrough Director||Celine Song||Nominated|
|Outstanding Lead Performance||Greta Lee||Nominated|
|Hollywood Critics Association Midseason Film Awards||June 30, 2023||Best Picture||Past Lives||Runner-up|||
|Best Director||Celine Song||Runner-up|
|Best Actor||Teo Yoo||Runner-up|
|Best Actress||Greta Lee||Won|
|Best Supporting Actor||John Magaro||Nominated|
|Best Screenplay||Celine Song||Won|
|Hollywood Music in Media Awards||November 15, 2023||Best Original Song — Independent Film||Sharon Van Etten and Zach Dawes ("Quiet Eyes")||Nominated|||
|Jerusalem Film Festival||July 23, 2023||Best International Debut||Past Lives||Nominated|||
|Manaki Brothers Film Festival||September 29, 2023||Golden Camera 300||Shabier Kirchner||Nominated|||
|Middleburg Film Festival||October 22, 2023||MFF Breakthrough Filmmaker Award||Celine Song||Won|||
|Miskolc International Film Festival||September 9, 2023||Emeric Pressburger Prize for Best Feature Film||Past Lives||Nominated|||
|Sydney Film Festival||June 18, 2023||Best Film||Nominated|||
|Santa Barbara International Film Festival||February 10, 2024||Virtuoso Award||Greta Lee||Won|||
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Further reading edit
- Alexi, Horowitz-Ghazi (June 4, 2023). "Past Lives is inspired by filmmaker Celine Song's own experience with a childhood friend". NPR. Retrieved June 4, 2023. (Radio review of the film)
- Dargis, Manohla (June 1, 2023). "'Past Lives' Review: Longing for a Future". The New York Times.