‘Past Lives’ | Anatomy of a Scene

“Hi, my name is Celine Song, and I’m the writer and director of ‘Past Lives.’” [MUSIC PLAYING] “So the scene is between Hae Sung, who’s played by Teo Yoo, and Nora, who is played by Greta Lee, and it’s about these two characters who haven’t seen each other in person in 24 years. And they’re sort of reuniting in New York. And the focus of the scene is about the way that Hae Sung looks so lost and alone and very small in New York City, in the city that is foreign to him. It’s a city that he’s here as a tourist. And the thing that we’re, of course, trying to capture here, is a kind of sense of anxiety and excitement. It’s some kind of a mix of both of waiting for your old friend that you haven’t seen in a long time. And he doesn’t know what to expect. And we wanted him to look like a kid in the scene. You know, him as he’s touching his hair to fix it, because he just wants to leave a good impression. And we’re really talking about capturing this moment where Nora is going to shout his name and he’s going to turn. And this whole shot was set up for this turn.” [CAR HORNS] “Hae Sung!” “And then we get to actually experience his sort of stunnedness or awe as he is seeing Nora. And the way that I sort of wrote this in the script, is that it’s as though he is seeing a ghost, and she’s also seeing a ghost. They’re sort of seeing a ghost in each other. And not only is this ghost, a real person who’s physical, she’s also walking towards him. And it’s meant to be a little bit terrifying.” [FOOTSTEPS] – [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] “So this is the moment in the past for them where they were childhood sweethearts. And I think for that moment, that viscerally, you’re sort of transported back in time. And Nora here is sort of breaking the barrier between them and crossing over. And the sound design for this is also about New York crashing down on them as she reaches over to hug him.” [TRAFFIC] [CAR HORNS] “There’s very little dialogue in the scene. So, so much of it had to happen through the way that they’re living with this moment and trying to navigate how they feel. And this particular shot is something that me and my DP, Shabier Kirchner, were sort of pulling from a Kore-eda trick, which is what we call the swinging camera. Where here, we’re with Hae Sung, and we’re so happy to see him and we’re excited to experience this through him, but we miss Nora. So, the camera moves so that we can see Nora.” – [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] [MUSIC PLAYING] “And now we’re so happy to see Nora and we’re just happy to experience this moment with her. And, but we’re happy to be here, but we also start to miss Hae Sung, so there’s a little bit of longing that gets built. And then we move over and we see Hae Sung again. And we’re so happy to see Hae Sung. And I think that feeling is really the thing that we were after for what we wanted this to be. Because now we’re going to miss Hae Sung again, and we’re so happy to see Nora. And this is the kind of emotional state that we want to put the audience, of longing and also glad to see someone, which is sort of what the heart of the scene is. And of course, they’re so happy, and we sort of walk them out of the scene.” – [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] – [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] – [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] – [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] [LAUGHS]