At times one flies back in time through channels that draw crossroads of memories alive only in one's mind. One believes, mistakenly, to know the shortcuts by heart to the sources of love, longing or fear hidden behind a veil of naive self-conviction. One takes note of the dangerous highways running through the wild subconscious which threatens to stir memories barely visible before one’s eyes. But even when noticed, these go unnoticed by the blinding decision of taking a step back and waiting until the peak of mental traffic slows down.
Sequenced throughout three temporal scenarios of twelve years and the Pacific in between, Past lives brilliantly reflects the emotional tie which two thirty-years old hold since their childhood. Taken away from her birth country by a decision out of her reach, Na Jung’s (or Nora as she’s called once abroad) time started feeding itself into a life which grew separate from that of Hae Sung during twenty four years before they met for the first time in person again. In-Yun, or fate as she translates from Korean, describes emotional ties which materialise beyond people’s present lives by forging themselves throughout thousands of past lives shared until the culmination of their love towards one another. While a reencounter suggests the existence of such unwavering string between the two protagonists of the film, past lives are simultaneously the reality of all people who shape Na Jung’s life and, though disheartening for some, do not prevent the culmination of love between her and other figures of her present in the story.
Past lives remains a divine visual reflection of the movement of time by resorting to a combination of images where characters interact with, while also shaped by, the space surrounding them. The ‘fleetingness’ of time is narrated through a story on the construction of identity and the vital path which one’s decisions outline despite not always being conscious of it. Celine Song, together with the cinematographic touch of Shabier Kirchner, produces a marvellous balance of decisions in which the protagonist leashes her childhood’s love to Seoul while she seeds her life and career in New York. Amidst her unpreparedly facing her past when Hae Sung lands in the city, her partner’s fear shyly emerges alongside his contradictory admiration of a love story inevitably present in her wife’s life, upon which he has no control. His message poses the central question vis-à-vis the core of love: is everything that makes us be and correspond to one another what truthfully defines one’s relationship, or is it something which goes beyond who and what we choose and feel well being with, such as destiny.
The other side of the story, Hae Sung, appears timid but has ultimately marked the timing of both protagonists’ relationship throughout the emptiness of decades. It is driven by his choice that both reestablish communication after twelve years of silence and, that after twenty four, they share again the same physical space shadowed by the height of New York. His emotional process, however, is expressed only a few hours before time defeats again their physical union in New York, asking her overtly what type of life theirs would then be: one present and climatic, culminating of what one would know as love, or, as In-Yun marks, the buffer step of a history yet to conclude in a subsequent life.