Monday, February 19, 2024

2024 Academy Awards Best Picture Nominee - Past Lives


Chris's review: Past Lives blew me away. It is a beautiful exploration of love, age, culture, and the human condition. It touched me deeply. It's a strong movie with basically nothing that leaps out as a flaw worth talking about. Interestingly, I expected to dislike it from the trailer but the emphasis of the film is very different than what the previews suggest. More than half the dialog is Korean, so you should expect to read while watching, which does take away one's ability to attend to the visual artistry. But I can't really call that a flaw because playing with language is part of what the movie intends.

Cathy's review: This movie has the absolute cutest pick-up line and first kiss scene of all time, one that captures all the uncertainty and joy of falling in love, and it sparked some spirited conversations between Chris and myself about how it feels to fall in love and, interestingly, Chris and I remember it differently. For Chris, it's exciting and joyful, and for me, it's a painful, vulnerable obsession.  It's not that I found no joy in it (I absolutely did!) nor was it always comfortable for Chris.

The title of the movie comes from this quote: "There is a word in Korean. In-Yun. It means "providence" or "fate". But it's specifically about relationships between people. I think it comes from Buddhism and reincarnation. It's an In-Yun if two strangers even walk by each other in the street and their clothes accidentally brush. Because it means there must have been something between them in their past lives." In-Yun is a thematic element carried through the entire story, and it was beautifully done.  

The movie is about love and human connections, and tells a very simple story: childhood sweethearts reconnect, but life gets in the way.  It's a lovely movie, showing wonderful vistas of New York City, Montauk (on Long Island), Seoul, and Shanghai, but also the grittiness of the cities, and it also does a good job showing the immigrant experience. It was a great choice to make Nora's husband a minority, too, and he forms a symbolic bridge between the now-mostly Americanized Nora and the wider American culture.  It also does a wonderful job showing the spark between people (mostly through the use of eye contact and glances). It grabbed my attention, and kept it despite having to read subtitles for more than half the movie.

The movie takes place over three time periods. It starts out in Seoul when the two main characters are 12 years old. They are friends and it's clear there is a spark between them, even as young as they are.  Then Nora and her family immigrate to Canada, and she and Hae Sung lose touch. Then it jumps forward twelve years and Nora is now living in New York City, and Hae Sung looks her up, and they start a series of video calls, and it's clear the spark is still there.  Then the movie jumps forward another twelve years (I can't help but wonder if 12 is significant somehow?) to 2023 and Hae Sung flies to New York to see her ... and meet her husband, a Jewish-American man named Arthur.  Yes, there's some tension in the situation.

Given that about two-thirds of Past Lives is not in my native language, I expected to rate it low, which I know is really quite unfair, but I strongly prefer the ease of watching movies in English. But this movie was so good that it overcame my language bias and shot almost to the top of this year's list of best-picture nominees.  It also only subtitled the Korean scenes, which I appreciated.

(Pithy Reviews; and Rankings of 6 out of 10 nominees):

Currently unranked:

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