Past Lives.

My wife and I saw the new movie Past Lives, which is in every way excellent — we hope it wins All The Awards. But what brings it here is the linguistic element of the story: the heroine, Nora, emigrated with her family from South Korea to Canada when she was twelve, and in the present of the movie she is completely fluent in English, but her childhood friend Hae Sung stayed in Korea and hardly speaks any English. By the time he visits, she is a playwright living in New York and married to a white American, who is trying to learn Korean to communicate with her family but is still at a basic level. The scene where the three of them get together to have dinner is a fascinating study in the difficulty of crossing boundaries, and as she explains in the Guardian, it was the genesis of the movie:

This might be the most explicitly autobiographical moment in Past Lives, a film which follows Nora as she reconnects with Hae Sung multiple times across multiple decades and continents. Less a love story than a meditation on what-ifs, it has propelled its debut director Celine Song to a rarefied strata of acclaim, accruing both rave reviews and early, frantic Oscars buzz since its Sundance premiere earlier this year. The idea for the film came to Song when she too was sitting in an East Village cocktail joint, sandwiched between an old flame from Seoul, who spoke only Korean, and her husband, the screenwriter Justin Kuritzkes, who spoke only English.

“I was translating between these two people,” she recalls. “And at one point, I realised that I wasn’t just translating between their languages and cultures, but also translating between these two parts of myself as well.” The experience, she says, “settled in me as a very special thing”. Song had previously spent a decade as a playwright. Now she knew she wanted to trade theatre for film.

I must say, the East Village no longer looks like the shabby neighborhood I remember; le vieux Paris n’est plus. Also, I think I’ve mentioned in some earlier thread the time when I was on a bus in London and found myself carrying on a three-way conversation with the guy on my left, who spoke only Spanish, and the guy on my right, who spoke only French. It gave me a deeper appreciation for the difficulty of the work simultaneous interpreters do!

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