4 Movies Like Past Lives (2023) On Criterionchannel

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Chasing the feel of watching Past Lives ? Here are the movies we recommend you watch right after.

The concepts of roads not taken and domino effects have received plenty of cinematic attention in their showier forms by way of multiverse comic book movies and dimension-hopping films like Everything Everywhere All At Once. But, though there’s no hint of sci-fi in Past Lives, Celine Song’s gentle film can count itself as one of the best treatments of that universe-spawning question: “what if?”When her family moves from Seoul to Canada, teenage Na Young bids a loaded farewell to classmate Hae Sung and changes her name to Nora. Years later, they reconnect online and discover the spark still burns between them. This is no idealistic romance, though: Past Lives is told with sober candor. Song acknowledges real obstacles standing in the way of a relationship between the two — those pragmatic (distance) and, more painfully, personal (evolving personalities, American husbands).Those two threads — unrealized romance and the transmutation of identity that so often takes place after migrating — are expertly entwined in Past Lives to produce a sublime, aching meditation on memory and time, practical love and idealistic romance, and all the complex contradictions that exist in between. That Song communicates so much and so delicately in only her first film makes Past Lives all the more stunning.

Martin Bell documents the lives of youth living in the streets of Seattle in the early eighties with profound empathy. It's a type of filmmaking that doesn’t judge or condescend, but seeks to capture the humanity of its subjects. The result is a film bursting with life and laughter, and although tragedy lurks around every corner it isn’t over-sentimentalized or exploited, taking a backseat to the compassionate depiction of everyday moments. 

The audience is left to its own devices to pull together the extent to which these youth have been failed by a broken safety-net and the expired promise of an American dream. These ideas rise to the surface naturally and serve as a testament to the power of the documentary form when it’s loosened from the grip of mawkish narrators and sugary moralizing.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Dewayne Pomeroy, Lulu Couch, Roberta Joseph Hayes

Director: Martin Bell

Set in one of Morocco’s oldest medinas, Blue Caftan is a tender portrayal of pure love and the different forms it takes. It follows traditional tailor Halim (Saleh Bakri) and his wife Mina (Lubna Azabal) who, despite their imperfect marriage, prove their affection in small but moving ways. He peels tangerines for her and washes her hair, she preps his meals and defends his craft from demanding customers. When a third person, Youssef (Ayoub Missioui), enters the picture, even more manifestations of passion (and the lack and longing and excess of it) emerge. 

It’s a dramatic film, but never overly so. Like the silky fabric Halim handles with expert care, it’s rich but soft, detailed but delicate. In the face of poverty, sickness, and discrimination, the film mines moments of joy, friendship, and pleasure, subverting the expectation that tragic circumstances must mean tragic outcomes. 

Blue Caftan, even in its saddest moments—and there are plenty—is a film full of love, made even more memorable by the deft performances and palpable chemistry of its three leads.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Lubna Azabal, Saleh Bakri, Zakaria Atifi

Director: Maryam Touzani

, 2022

It’s a bold move, centering a drama around a creature as docile as a donkey, but EO pulls it off without ever leaning on the crutch of CGI. Instead, the film makes ingenious use of a hundred-year-old film technique: the Kuleshov effect. By splicing the image of the titular donkey’s placid, expressionless face against visual stimulus, the illusion of a genuine reaction is produced.

But don’t be mistaken: this is no twee Disney-esque tale of anthropomorphism. Inspired by the classic Au Hasard Balthasar, EO tracks the haphazard journey of a former circus donkey across Europe — one that is often depicted in surreal psychedelic reds instead of idyllic picture-book tones, and punctured by more horrors than joys (though we do, thankfully, get to see him munch away on some well-deserved carrot treats). EO’s docility frames him as a kind of holy innocent, making the cruelty meted out to him feel all the more like a grave violation of something sacrosanct. Seeing the world through his oft-neglected perspective also makes this a movie about humans by proxy — a fresh, empathetic approach that, even in its obvious dramatic liberties, makes us meditate on both the depth of experience that may be unfolding in our animal neighbors and our role in shaping it.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Isabelle Huppert, Kateřina Holánová, Lolita Chammah, Lorenzo Zurzolo, Mateusz Kościukiewicz, Sandra Drzymalska, Tomasz Organek, Waldemar Barwiński

Director: Jerzy Skolimowski

Rating: NR

, 2023

There's something rich at the heart of Afire that, whether intentionally or not, is kept at arm's length from the viewer. Over the course of Leon's (Thomas Schubert) quiet summer retreat to work on the manuscript for his second book, we come to understand his generally irritable nature as not just creative but existential. Through his eyes and writer-director Christian Petzold's expertly restrained sensibilities for drama, every moment becomes tinged with a vague jealousy—insecurity about other people leading satisfied lives, and his inability to let anything be without finding fault in it first. Leon is meant to be difficult to sympathize with, but at his core is an emptiness that comes with the acknowledgement of how limited one's future really is.

And on the opposite end is Nadja (Paula Beer), a woman who just happens to be staying at the same vacation home due to an overlap in booking, whom Leon sees as a reminder for everything he lacks: romance, thoughtful attentiveness, and a love of life that helps her to stop focusing on what she thinks she lacks. The film stops short of having these characters undergo change that feels truly meaningful, but just seeing them dance around each other with a sharpening tension is well worth the experience.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Enno Trebs, Esther Esche, Jennipher Antoni, Langston Uibel, Matthias Brandt, Paula Beer, Thomas Schubert

Director: Christian Petzold

Rating: NR