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“Past Lives” exquisitely explores romantic paths taken and forsaken

Past Lives

Starring Greta Lee, Teo Yoo, John Magaro, Seung Ah Moon, Seung Min Yim. Written and directed by Celine Song. Now playing in Toronto theatres. 106 minutes. PG

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (out of 4)

Peter Howell

Movie Critic

The tightrope walk between desire and destiny is exquisitely traversed in this brilliant filmmaking debut by Korean-Canadian playwright Celine Song. She draws from her own immigrant experience for a “what if?” tale of difficult life choices, one that sighs with wistful romance, triangular complications and poignant performances. “Crybaby” Na Young and “manly” Hae Sung (Moon Seung Ah and Leem Seung-min) are childhood sweethearts in Seoul who might one day marry, despite their disparate personalities. The dream shatters when Na Young emigrates to Toronto. A joyful reconnection via Skype a dozen years later, when these dreamers are both 24, leaves their situation intriguingly unresolved. Reality intrudes: she has career ambitions; he has compulsory military service. Another 12 years pass and Na Young, now a writer called Nora and played by Greta Lee (“Russian Doll”), is happily living in New York with her novelist husband, Arthur (John Magaro, “First Cow”). Meanwhile, Hae Sung, an engineer now played by Teo Yoo (“Decision to Leave”), announces plans to travel to New York to “have fun.” Everybody knows — especially Nora — that his intentions are more calculating than this. The trip dissolves distances and decades, leading to thoughts about paths taken and forsaken. As a writer, Song’s lovely screenplay keeps the tension free of rom-com contrivances. As a director, her keen eye, attention to detail and artful framing announce an exciting new filmmaker. 🌓


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