Before making Past Lives, writer-director Celine Song says with a laugh, she didn’t even know how to read a call sheet. Flash forward a year, though, from the A24 romantic drama’s world premiere at Sundance, and she’s landed an Original Screenplay Oscar nom for her debut feature, also seeing it land a slot in the category of Best Picture.
For Song, who was formerly best known for her acclaimed work as a playwright, the recognition means the world. “It’s just so amazing. It’s such a great honor, and on the first movie, I think that’s really the coolest thing,” the filmmaker told Deadline. “It feels so f**king cool and amazing, and I just genuinely am so f**king grateful for every single person…who’s ever come across being a part of this movie, anybody who’s even talked to me about this movie.”
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Past Lives‘ Best Picture nom came as part of a historic moment that has seen three works by female filmmakers break into the category for the first time, the others being Anatomy of a Fall‘s Justine Triet and Barbie‘s Greta Gerwig. This, Song says, is also remarkable. “I mean, I don’t know what I can say about whole state of the industry or anything like that because I just got here. It’s my first movie,” she reflected. “But I think it’s so amazing to see that because I feel like Past Lives is a lived-in thing from my own body and the way that I live my life, and I’m a woman. So, I think that’s all. But I’m honestly just over the moon.”
A semi-autobiographical feature named one of the top ten films of 2023 by the National Board of Review and the American Film Institute, Past Lives tells the story of Nora (Greta Lee) and Hae Sung (Teo Yoo), two deeply connected childhood friends, who are wrest apart after Nora’s family emigrates from South Korea. Two decades later, a married Nora is reunited with Hae Sung in New York for one fateful week as they confront notions of destiny, love, and the choices that make a life. Also starring in the pic, as Nora’s husband Arthur, who wrestles with what his wife’s connection to Hae Sung means, while giving the pair the space to reconnect, is John Magaro.
Coming off of five nominations at the Golden Globes, Past Lives has also this season locked down a Gotham Award for Best Feature, among myriad other accolades. Song feels the film has connected with audiences given the way it portrays the reality of “completely extraordinary moments” that occur in the lives of every ordinary person. “I think that’s the thing that has carried us from the beginning…The way it’s connecting to the audience, I feel like I know more about strangers’ childhood sweetheart stories than anybody else because the movie that we made together, it makes the audience want to share,” she said. “It makes them talk about their own lives and tell me their own stories.”
Looking ahead, Song’s only goal is to build an enduring career in features, on the back of strong work. “I hope it is the same until I’m 95 and barely making it to set. I want to do this forever, and I think that the creative mission is to keep making movies, to the best of my ability,” she said. “I think that’s the only way I can really move forward, and that’s the only way that I can really give back for the amazing honors that [there have] been for my debut film. I think that’s the only thing I can say. I’m just going to do my f**king best.”
Produced by David Hinojosa, Christine Vachon and Pamela Koffler, Past Lives‘ Best Picture competitors are American Fiction, Anatomy of a Fall, Barbie, The Holdovers, Killers of the Flower Moon, Maestro, Oppenheimer, Poor Things and The Zone of Interest. In the Original Screenplay category, she’ll compete against Anatomy of a Fall‘s Justine Tries and Arthur Harari, The Holdovers‘ David Hemingson, Maestro‘s Bradley Cooper & Josh Singer, and May December‘s Samy Burch.
This year’s Oscars ceremony is taking place at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood on March 10.
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