Notes From The Program Director | Week of July 7th, 2023
Notes From The Program Director
Week of July 7th, 2023
This week, the new Pickford favorite,Asteroid City, continues, and I’m delighted to say one of the most talked-about films of the year, a film all but guaranteed to scoop up Oscar-season awards,Past Lives, finally arrives on our screens.
Past Lives, the truly extraordinary feature film debut from writer-director Celine Song, is both a tenderly-told romance, full of longing and half-suppressed emotion, as well as a thoughtful reflection on identity and personal history. Beautifully developed over a three-part narrative, covering the span of two decades,Past Livesfollows the story of Na Young. It begins in South Korea, where Na Young is an adolescent girl who has a mutually returned crush on a boy in her class, Hae Sung, even as Na Young’s family is about to immigrate to Canada. It’s an innocent romance, full of the hopeful, playful naivete of youth, and when the two say goodbye, it’s not clear they understand just how much the upcoming separating distance of an ocean will impact their young love. The story picks up 12 years later, and the two young people have completely lost touch in the intervening years, but Na Young--now called Nora and living in the United States--randomly finds Hae Sung, still living in Korea, online, and the two rekindle their connection, a very quick and intense connection that neither Nora nor Hae Sung are quite sure what to do with, given the ocean between them and separate careers in front of them. The story then picks up, yet again, another 12 years later, the two having again lost touch, but Hae Sung reaches out to Nora, now in a new, long-term loving relationship, asking to meet her in New York, where she lives. It becomes clear that Nora and Hae Sung must finally reach a resolution about who they are to one another: a long history, a shared birthplace and language, a youthful romance -- but what does it mean? What is it, in the present moment of each of their lives, a present that Nora now shares with another man?
Past Livestells a beautifully specific story, focusing on one particular woman whose experiences as a South Korean immigrant shape her in profound ways -- and yet the film speaks powerfully into what is, quite simply, a very human experience, swirling around the existential questions we might all ask ourselves at one time or another in our lives, whether we’ve come to the U.S. as immigrants or otherwise. It’s a film that reminds me of other wonderful films likeBefore Sunsetof theBeforetrilogy, or of the recent favoriteEverything Everywhere All at Once, or of the masterpiece from another era,It’s a Wonderful Life. WithPast Lives, each of these films, though very different in form and tone, deal poignantly and powerfully with the questions, “who would I be had I made a different choice, had I followed a different path, had I fallen in love with another person?” and “is the life I’m living now the one I’m supposed to be living, and does it reflect the person I am, the person I want to be?” and “Is a piece of me missing forever, because I chose this path, and not this other one?” and “do I choose my fate or does fate choose me?”
As such,Past Livesis a film that left me in a deeply reflective mood as well as in an emotionally raw state of being, offering me the kind of catharsis we might look for from our favorite films. I confess that, early on, I wasn’t quite sure the film was going to grab me; I enjoyed it without deeply loving it. At first. But that’s the power of a film like this, that its journey is so gentle and organic, so naturally told, I didn't quite realize exactly how much it had me wrapped around its finger until a moment near the end -- with a specific cut, a flashback -- that tenderly, but firmly, cut my heart in two.
I suppose it’s too early to call a first film from a new director a masterpiece, but Celine Song’sPast Lives, so delicately told but with such an assured hand, is, surely, one of the very best films of the year.
In addition to our theatrical runs ofAsteroid CityandPast Livesthis week, we’ve also got some very special events:
First, on Thursday, July 13, in solidarity with the writers on strike with theWriters Guild of America-- writers who make the film and TV we love so much possible -- we’re playingAdaptation, starring Nicholas Cage in a fabulously entertaining dual role, directed by Spike Jonze (Her, Where the Wild Things Are, Being John Malkovich), and written by Charlie Kaufman (I’m Thinking of Ending Things, Anomalisa, Synecdoche, New York, Being John Malkovich). Like many of the films Kaufman has written (or written and directed),Adaptationis equally as playful and outrageously hilarious as it is very sincerely and poignantly about the struggle of making art. In the film, Cage plays a screenwriter named Charlie Kaufman, who, in the process of trying to adapt the bookThe Orchid Thiefby Susan Orlean, has a horrible case of writer’s block; he’s paralyzed by a dread of writing something that might be cliched or boring or predictable. The film itself, of course, with an irony that won’t be lost on anyone, is anything but cliched, boring, and predictable, and when a second Nic Cage shows up as Charlie Kaufman’s more confident twin brother, Donald, who decides he wants to be a screenwriter, too, it’s only the beginning of a film that is as much about art and the Hollywood business as it is about human identity and love.
We also have the next installment in ourNational Theatre Live (NTL)series with the always fantastic David Tennant (my favorite Doctor Who) inGood. And indeed, Tennant has received rave reviews for the live performances of the play, but much like our previous NTL selection,Best of Enemies,Goodis a play that has pungent political themes that could not be more resonant for today. Arifa Akbar notes in herGuardianreview, “Often considered an examination of how a “good” man is corrupted, the play begins in 1933 and follows Halder’s (Tennant) conversion to nazism, step by step.”And she continues,“What makes this study fascinating, and appalling, is that Halderis not simply following orders: he is an active participant who joins the party because they select and flatter him. But he is not a Nazi who buys into antisemitic ideology: ‘the anti-Jewish rubbish’, he calls it, and like Hannah Arendt he sees it as an outrage to common sense. Yet still he joins the SS. What Tennant conveys so unnervingly, is that a lack of principle and ideological zeal can in fact create the zealot. . . . His slide into inhumanity comes about because of his not caring for others enough and not believing in anything enough.” The play, as such, is a sobering reminder that evil flourishes not necessarily because a person might personally hold a particular ideology, but because in the vacuum of no ideology at all, perhaps a determination “not to take sides,” a “good” person might end up serving evil ends.Goodplays Wednesday evening, July 12, and Sunday, July 16.
Finally, this month’sKid Pickford-- where tickets are always family-friendly, at $6 each -- we have the irresistibleTrolls. Walk into this film grumpy, and I dare anyone to keep the frown on their face. It’s an impossibly cheerful film that wears its heart on its sleeve and boasts a completely delightful soundtrack, remixing old and new favorites from the pop song catalog, and interweaving musical jokes and silly but clever humor into a warmhearted story. The film is quite wonderfully cast, too, with the acting and singing talents of Justin Timberlake, Anna Kendrick, and Zooey Deschanel (who plays my favorite character) as well as Gwen Stefani, Christine Baranski, John Cleese, and Jeffrey Tambor. I always love how animation gives otherwise often serious actors the chance to show just how unselfconsciously silly they can be, and this film, in that regard, does not disappoint.Trollsplays Saturday, 1:30; Sunday, 10 am; and Wednesday, 10 am.