Past Lives (film)

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Past Lives
Theatrical release poster
Directed byCeline Song
Written byCeline Song
Produced by
Starring
CinematographyShabier Kirchner
Edited byKeith Fraase
Music by
Production
companies
Distributed byA24
Release dates
  • January 21, 2023 (2023-01-21) (Sundance)
  • June 2, 2023 (2023-06-02) (United States)
Running time
106 minutes[1]
Country
South Korea
Languages
  • English
  • Korean
Budget$12 million[4]
Box office$42.3 million[5][6]

Past Lives is a 2023 American romantic drama film written and directed by Celine Song in her feature directorial debut. Starring Greta Lee, Teo Yoo, and John Magaro, it follows two childhood friends over the course of 24 years while they contemplate the nature of their relationship as they grow apart, living different lives. The plot is semi-autobiographical and inspired by real events from Song's life.[7]

Past Lives premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 21, 2023, and was released theatrically in the United States on June 2, 2023. The film received critical acclaim[8] and was named one of the top ten films of 2023 by the National Board of Review and the American Film Institute and received various accolades including five nominations at the 81st Golden Globe Awards, including Best Motion Picture – Drama and Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama (for Lee).[9][10] At the 96th Academy Awards, it received nominations for Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture.

Plot[edit]

In 2000, Seoul, South Korea, Na Young and Hae Sung are 12-year-old classmates who develop feelings for one another and go on a date set up by their parents. Shortly thereafter, Na Young's family immigrates to Toronto and the two lose contact. Na Young changes her name to Nora Moon.

Twelve years later, in 2012, Hae Sung has finished his military service and Nora has moved to New York City. One day, Nora discovers on Facebook that Hae Sung had posted 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 plans to attend a writer's retreat in Montauk and Hae Sung is moving to China for a Mandarin language exchange. Eventually, Nora tells Hae Sung they should stop talking for a while, as she wants to focus on her writing and life in New York. At her retreat, Nora meets Arthur Zaturansky and they fall in love. Hae Sung also meets a woman, whom he begins to date.

Twelve more years pass, with Arthur and Nora married and living in New York. Hae Sung, no longer with his girlfriend, goes to meet Nora there. Arthur wonders if he is a roadblock in their own imperfect love story, admitting to Nora that he harbored suspicions that Nora married him to secure a green card for U.S. 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 to have met him.

They return to Arthur and Nora's apartment. Hae Sung invites them to visit him in South Korea and calls for an Uber. Nora waits with him, and the two exchange long, meaningful looks at each other until the Uber arrives. Hae Sung wonders whether they were, at that moment, 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.

Cast[edit]

The film stars Greta Lee, Teo Yoo and John Magaro.
  • Greta Lee as Nora Moon
    • 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 mother
  • Choi Won-young as Nora's father
  • Min Young Ahn as Hae Sung's mother
  • Jojo T. Gibbs as Janice
  • Emily Cass McDonnell as Rachel
  • Federico Rodriguez as Robert
  • Conrad Schott as Peter
  • Kristen Sieh as Heather

Production[edit]

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.[11] In August 2021, it was announced that Greta Lee, Teo Yoo, and John Magaro joined the cast of the film, with Yoo replacing Choi.[12]

Cinematographer Shabier Kirchner shot Past Lives on 35 mm film.[13] Production took place during July and August 2021 at locations around New York, including the city's ferries, and under and along the landmark Manhattan Bridge. The apartment sets for Hae Sung and Nora's Skype/Zoom conversations were built adjacent to one another at Greenpoint Studios, Brooklyn, and filmed simultaneously. The production then moved to Seoul, South Korea, and filmed from late October to early November.[14]

Music[edit]

Release[edit]

Director Celine Song with lead actress Greta Lee at a screening of the film

The film had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 21, 2023.[15] It was also screened at 73rd Berlin International Film Festival on February 19, 2023.[16] Later that month, StudioCanal and CJ ENM were among the distributors acquiring the international distribution rights.[17] It was the opening film for the 2023 Seattle International Film Festival.[18] Past Lives had a limited theatrical release in the United States on June 2, 2023,[19] before expanding to more theaters on June 9; it was released nationwide on June 23.[20]

It was screened at the 28th Busan International Film Festival as part of 'Korean American Special Exhibition: Korean Diaspora' on 5 October 2023.[21]

Reception[edit]

Box office[edit]

Past Lives grossed $11.2 million in the United States and Canada and $27.5 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $38.7 million.[22]

The film grossed $232,266 from four theaters in its opening weekend, an average of $55,066 per venue.[23] By its sixth weekend, the film had a running total of $8.4 million.[24]

Critical response[edit]

Greta Lee's performance in the film garnered critical acclaim.

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 95% of 305 critics' reviews are positive, with an average rating of 9.1/10. 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."[25] Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 94 out of 100, based on 52 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[26]

Manola Darghis 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."[27] 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."[28]

Filmmaker Daniel Scheinert, who co-directed A24's Everything Everywhere All at Once with his partner Daniel Kwan, praised the film, saying "It's remarkable, the way she [Celine Song] pushed past the story of "picking mister right" and the story of "fighting to win the girl" and somehow brought her audience to this painfully relatable heartbreak on the other side of those stories. I'm inspired by it. And mystified by how the filmmaking team did it. But when I was lucky enough to see a Q&A and have some brunch with Celine, I saw how curious and thoughtful and passionate and charmingly bossy she was, and I was instantly convinced that this movie was no accident. It's a smart, confident, unique poem because Celine is a smart, confident, unique poet."[29] Filmmaker Christopher Nolan also praised the film and named it one of his favorites, describing it as "subtle in a beautiful sort of way."[30]

Retrospective lists[edit]

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."[31]

In 2024, IndieWire included it on its list of the "Best American Independent Movies of the 21st Century."[32]

The National Society of Film Critics named the film "Best Picture of 2023."[33]

Accolades[edit]

Award Date of ceremony Category Nominee(s) Result Ref.
Academy Awards March 10, 2024 Best Picture David Hinojosa, Christine Vachon and Pamela Koffler Nominated [34]
Best Original Screenplay Celine Song Nominated
African-American Film Critics Association January 15, 2024 Top 10 Films of the Year Past Lives 5th Place [35]
Alliance of Women Film Journalists January 3, 2024 Best Film Nominated [36]
Best Non-English-Language Film Nominated
Best Director Celine Song Nominated
Best Actress Greta Lee Nominated
Best Woman's Breakthrough Performance Nominated
Best Screenplay, Original Celine Song Nominated
Best Woman Director Nominated
Best Woman Screenwriter Won
American Cinema Editors March 3, 2024 Best Edited Feature Film (Drama, Theatrical) Keith Fraase Nominated [37]
American Film Institute Awards December 7, 2023 Top 10 Films of the Year Past Lives Won[a] [38]
Asia Pacific Screen Awards November 3, 2023 Best Director Celine Song Won [39]
Artios Awards March 7, 2024 Outstanding Achievement in Casting – Feature Studio or Independent (Drama) Ellen Chenoweth, Susanne Scheel Won [40]
Astra Film and Creative Arts Awards January 6, 2024 Best Picture Past Lives Nominated [41]
Best Director Celine Song Nominated
Best Actress Greta Lee Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Celine Song Nominated
Best First Feature Won
Austin Film Critics Association Awards January 10, 2024 Best Film Past Lives Nominated [42]
Best Director Celine Song Nominated
Best Actress Greta Lee Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Celine Song Won
Best First Film Won
The Robert R. "Bobby" McCurdy Memorial Breakthrough Artist Award Nominated
Berlin International Film Festival February 25, 2023 Golden Bear Nominated [43]
Black Film Critics Circle December 20, 2023 Top Ten Films Past Lives 6th Place [44]
Best Original Screenplay Celine Song Won
Boston Society of Film Critics Awards December 10, 2023 Best New Filmmaker Won [45]
British Academy Film Awards February 18, 2024 Best Actor Teo Yoo Nominated [46]
Best Original Screenplay Celine Song Nominated
Best Film Not in the English Language Celine Song, David Hinojosa, Pamela Koffler and Christine Vachon Nominated
British Independent Film Awards December 3, 2023 Best International Independent Film Celine Song, David Hinojosa, Christine Vachon, and Pamela Koffler Nominated [47]
Celebration of Cinema & Television December 4, 2023 Actress Award (Film) Greta Lee Won [48]
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards December 12, 2023 Best Actor Teo Yoo Nominated [49]
Most Promising Performer Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Celine Song Nominated
Milos Stehlik Award for Breakthrough Filmmaker Won
Cinema Eye Honors January 12, 2024 Heterodox Award Past Lives Nominated [50]
Critics' Choice Movie Awards January 14, 2024 Best Picture Nominated [51]
Best Actress Greta Lee Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Celine Song Nominated
Dallas–Fort Worth Film Critics Association December 18, 2023 Top 10 Films of the Year Past Lives 6th Place [52]
Best Director Celine Song 5th Place
Best Actress Greta Lee 4th Place
Deauville American Film Festival September 9, 2023 Grand Special Prize Past Lives Nominated [53]
Denver Film Critics Society January 12, 2024 Best Film Nominated [54]
Best Lead Performance by an Actor, Female Greta Lee Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Celine Song Nominated
Best Non-English Language Feature Past Lives Nominated
Directors Guild of America Awards February 10, 2024 Outstanding Directing – First-Time Feature Film Celine Song Won [55]
Dublin Film Critics Circle Awards December 19, 2023 Best Film Past Lives Won [56]
Best Director Celine Song Won
Film Fest Ghent October 21, 2023 Best Film Past Lives Nominated [57]
Special Mention Greta Lee, Yoo Teo and John Magaro Won [58]
Florida Film Critics Circle Awards December 21, 2023 Best Picture Past Lives Nominated [59] [60]
Best Director Celine Song Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Won
Best First Film Won
Breakout Award Runner-up
Georgia Film Critics Association Awards January 5, 2024 Best Picture Past Lives Runner-up [61]
[62]
Best Director Celine Song Nominated
Best Actress Greta Lee Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Celine Song Runner-up
Best Original Song Sharon Van Etten and Zach Dawes ("Quiet Eyes") Nominated
Golden Globe Awards January 7, 2024 Best Motion Picture – Drama Past Lives Nominated [63]
Best Picture – Non-English Language Nominated
Best Director Celine Song Nominated
Best Screenplay Nominated
Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Greta Lee Nominated
Golden Trailer Awards June 29, 2023 Best Romance "Fate" (Mark Wollen & Associates) Won [64]
Gotham Independent Film Awards November 27, 2023 Best Feature Past Lives Won [65]
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 [66]
Best Indie Won
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 [67]
[68]
Houston Film Critics Society January 22, 2024 Best Picture Past Lives Nominated [69]
[70]
Best Actress Greta Lee Nominated
Best Screenplay Celine Song Nominated
Independent Spirit Awards February 25, 2024 Best Film David Hinojosa, Pamela Koffler, Christine Vachon Won [71]
Best Director Celine Song Won
Best Lead Performance Greta Lee Nominated
Teo Yoo Nominated
Best Screenplay Celine Song Nominated
Indiana Film Journalists Association December 17, 2023 Best Film Past Lives Nominated [72]
[73]
Best Director Celine Song Nominated
Best Lead Performance Greta Lee Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Celine Song Nominated
Breakout of the Year Won
Best Foreign Language Film Past Lives Nominated
IndieWire Critics Poll December 11, 2023 Best Film 4th Place [74]
Best Director Celine Song 7th Place
Best Performance Greta Lee 9th Place[b]
Best Screenplay Celine Song 2nd Place
Best First Feature Past Lives Won
Jerusalem Film Festival July 23, 2023 Best International Debut Nominated [75]
Las Vegas Film Critics Society December 13, 2023 Best Director Celine Song Nominated [76]
Best Actress Greta Lee Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Celine Song Nominated
Breakout Filmmaker Won
Los Angeles Film Critics Association December 10, 2023 New Generation Award Celine Song Won [77]
Manaki Brothers Film Festival September 29, 2023 Golden Camera 300 Shabier Kirchner Nominated [78]
Middleburg Film Festival October 22, 2023 MFF Breakthrough Filmmaker Award Celine Song Won [79]
Minnesota Film Critics Alliance February 04, 2024 Best Picture Past Lives Nominated [80]
Best Director Celine Song Nominated
Best Screenplay Won
Best Actress Greta Lee Runner-up[c]
Miskolc International Film Festival September 9, 2023 Emeric Pressburger Prize for Best Feature Film Past Lives Nominated [81]
National Board of Review December 6, 2023 Top Ten Films Won[a] [82]
Best Directorial Debut Celine Song Won
National Society of Film Critics Awards January 6, 2024 Best Film Past Lives Won [83]
Best Screenplay Celine Song Runner-up[d]
New York Film Critics Online Awards December 15, 2023 Top 10 Films Past Lives Won[a] [84]
Best Debut Director Celine Song Won
New York Film Critics Circle Awards November 30 2023 Best First Film Past Lives Won [85]
North Texas Film Critics Association December 18, 2023 Best Actress Greta Lee Nominated [86]
Best Screenplay Celine Song Nominated
Phoenix Film Critics Society December 18, 2023 Top Ten Films of 2023 Past Lives Won[a] [87]
Oklahoma Film Critics Circle January 3, 2024 Top 10 Films 5th Place [88]
Best First Feature Celine Song Won
Producers Guild of America Awards February 25, 2024 Darryl F. Zanuck Award for Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures Past Lives Nominated [89]
San Diego Film Critics Society December 19, 2023 Best Original Screenplay Celine Song Nominated [90]
Best First Feature Runner-up
San Francisco Bay Area Film Critics Circle Awards January 9, 2024 Best Film Past Lives Nominated [91]
Best Director Celine Song Nominated
Best Actress Greta Lee Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Celine Song Won
Satellite Awards February 18, 2024 Best Motion Picture, Drama Past Lives Nominated [92]
Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama Greta Lee Nominated
Best Screenplay, Original Celine Song Nominated
Santa Barbara International Film Festival February 10, 2024 Virtuoso Award Greta Lee Won [93]
Seattle Film Critics Society Awards January 8, 2024 Best Picture of the Year Past Lives Won [94]
Best Director Celine Song Nominated
Best Actress in a Leading Role Greta Lee Nominated
Best Screenplay Celine Song Nominated
Best Film Editing Keith Frasse Nominated
Southeastern Film Critics Association December 18, 2023 Top 10 Films Past Lives 6th Place [95]
St. Louis Film Critics Association December 17, 2023 Best Film Past Lives Nominated [96]
Best Director Celine Song Nominated
Best Actress Greta Lee Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Celine Song Nominated
Sydney Film Festival June 18, 2023 Best Film Past Lives Nominated [97]
Toronto Film Critics Association December 17, 2023 Best Original Screenplay Celine Song Runner-up[e] [98]
Best First Feature Past Lives Runner-up[f]
Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Awards December 10, 2023 Best Film Past Lives Nominated [99]
Best Director Celine Song Nominated
Best Actress Greta Lee Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Celine Song Won
Women Film Critics Circle Awards December 18, 2023 Best Movie by a Woman Past Lives Won [100]
Best Woman Storyteller Celine Song Won
Best Screen Couple Greta Lee and John Magaro Runner-up
Writers Guild of America Awards April 14, 2024 Best Original Screenplay Celine Song Nominated [101]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d This award does not have a single winner, but recognizes multiple films.
  2. ^ Tied with Jeffrey Wright for American Fiction.
  3. ^ Shared with Emma Stone for Poor Things.
  4. ^ Tied with David Hemingson for The Holdovers.
  5. ^ Shared with Justine Triet and Arthur Harari for Anatomy of a Fall.
  6. ^ Shared with American Fiction.

References[edit]

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