The intro scene of Past Lives instantly piques curiosity. Nora (Greta Lee, from the Russian Doll series), an Asian woman, is surrounded by two men. We will learn later that it is her husband Arthur (John Magaro, one of the heroes of First Cow) and her childhood sweetheart Hae Sung (Teo Yoo, unforgettable in Leto). The trio seems in harmony even if a malaise remains.

This situation really happened to filmmaker Celine Song, and it becomes the cornerstone of this deeply personal story. “It was so special for me to be sitting between my two soul mates from different worlds, she says during an interview she gave us by videoconference. It is as if time and space are collapsing. »

This ambitious feature film has nothing to do with traditional romances set in a love triangle. It is rather to be classified in the select category of reflections on destiny and life trajectories, alongside In the Mood for Love by Wong Kar-wai, Hasard by Krzysztof Kieslowski and the trilogy Before by Richard Linklater. A melancholy meditation on the choices we make that end up influencing the rest of our lives.

“These are existential questions that fascinate me,” energetically launches the 30-year-old director, who has previously written a few plays for the theatre.

The story first introduces its 12-year-old protagonist Nora, who lives in South Korea and forms a close friendship with a boy her age, before having to move to North America. They reunite 12 years later through social media, but can’t connect in the real world. It is only 12 years later that they will be able to meet in flesh and blood.

“It’s one film in three goodbyes, two of which are bad and one good, analyzes its screenwriter. They are too young for the first, too far for the second and everything becomes possible for the third. »

In order to orchestrate this reunion in the Big Apple, Celine Song uses the power of cinema, notably using the image to visually express memories and the passage of time. This is especially palpable during a key scene that arrives late, as Nora stands in the street alongside Arthur, watching Hae Sung walk away.

“You have to see the street as a timeline, explains the one who participated in the writing of a few episodes of the series The Wheel of Time. Nora goes to find Hae Sung. She walks to the left as if going back in time. It is only when she returns to the right, to the present and the future, that she can mourn her childhood, the little girl she was, and become the woman she will be. »

This idea, which contributes to the development of a specific identity, is not only temporal. It also takes shape in space, depending on where you live and where you grow up. Like her heroine, Celine Song left South Korea at the age of 12 to settle in Toronto, before settling in New York. The reason for the absence is not only linked to this childhood love left behind, but also to the process of immigration and uprooting. Irreversible changes that were also discussed in the Oscar-winning Everything Everywhere All at Once.

“It is certain that this move had a major impact on my language and my culture, that it formed the person that I am today, confides the one who was raised by an artist mother and a filmmaker father. But you don’t have to cross the ocean to understand that. You can simply leave Quebec to settle in Montreal. The emotion is universal, because you feel the weight of leaving everything behind to build a new life for yourself. It can put you in an unfamiliar position of fear and vulnerability. But you have to accept these changes, because they are what build you. »