Two childhood friends who haven’t seen each other for many years reunite. A meeting tinged with joy and regret for Nora and Hae Sung.

Past Lives is one of the most beautiful surprises of 2023. A sensitive, moving first feature film with a rare intelligence on the way we connect with others.

A priori, it is a traditional romance about a woman (Greta Lee) who hesitates to reconnect with her childhood sweetheart (Teo Yoo), because she is happy with her husband (John Magaro). Obviously, appearances should not be trusted and the film is much more than that.

Rather, we find ourselves faced with a powerful reflection on destiny. A combination of circumstances led our heroine to move her household from South Korea to North America. What if she had missed out on her life?

Existential questions abound in this creation which deals with both uprooting and identity. The quest for happiness is not always straightforward when doubts abound about our past choices and the subtle scenario holds no easy answers. The witty and never kitsch dialogues recall those of Woody Allen and Richard Linklater of the good old days, while the bittersweet tone reveals itself to be melancholy.

What surprises us is the maturity of South Korean-born filmmaker and screenwriter Celine Song, who had never directed before, her experience being limited to writing for theater and television. The confidence she exudes elevates this ambitious autobiographical tale that takes place across three eras and two continents. His use of ellipses of time and place commands admiration, as does his way of resorting to convincing symbolism. The only downside: sometimes intrusive music.

The trio of performers deliver a wide range of emotions. It feels so good to see such delicate and human beings. For example, the male characters put aside their mutual jealousy out of love for their soul mates and it is all these nuances that bring authenticity and credibility to the story.

Past Lives is in the vein of great romantic films like In the Mood for Love and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. After seducing Sundance and Berlin, who knows how far this magical work will go.