SPOILERS WITHIN: Celine Song‘s Past Lives (A24) is a very subtle, oh-so-very-gently expressed love story — a story about things unsaid and certainly not acted upon.

The action between the lovers, Nora and Hae Sung (played as adults by Greta Lee and Teo Yoo), happens in three stages.

One, a primal and very nourishing attraction they feel as 10-year-old children in Seoul, only to be separated when Nora’s parents move the family to Toronto. Two, aspiring playwright Nora and aspiring engineer Hae Sung Skype-chatting at age 20 but never arranging to meet. And three, both still wanting to see each other after a separation of 20 years and with Hae Sung having flown to New York to visit the now-married Nora, both conveying volumes of feeling with their eyes but doing zip to try to make this long-simmering romance finally kick into gear.

You can feel the “In Yun” every step of the way, but Nora and Hae Sung are so polite and constrained and well-behaved, and are certainly mindful of the feelings of poor Arthur (John Magaro), Nora’s bearded husband with the rag-mop haircut and obviously the odd man out in this situation.

All through the second and third acts you want the lovers to somehow break through and say something and risk emotional exposure or even erupt in some messy way, but they don’t, they won’t and they never will.

You’re silently pleading with both to “please risk it….please don’t allow yourselves to become Anthony Hopkins at the end of The Remains of the Day…even if it’s just a big hug and a long kiss at the airport as Hae Sung is about to fly back to Seoul…a little catharsis, please!”

Catharsis finally happens at the very last minute, but more in the way of Anthony Quinn’s Zampano character at the very end of La Strada.

Past Lives, in short, is all about subtext, impossible distances, zero physical contact, impossible social constraints and quietly pleading, gently leaking expressions.

A couple of hours after seeing Song’s film I told a friend that it’s “a woman’s version of a Wong Kar Wai film about soul-crossed lovers who never get aroused much less climax, and without the Chris Doyle lensing.”

I understand why people might admire or even adore Past Lives. I certainly understand why almost every critic (except for Alison Wilmore) has done handstands, and why the Sundance crowd flipped for it last January.

I respect it, but it doesn’t quite do the thing.

The late Sydney Pollack used to say that the most affecting love stories are ones that don’t end happily. Example #1 is the final scene in Pollack’s The Way We Were. There’s no denying that it works — you can’t help but feel it.

The ending of Past Lives is poignant and affecting, but it leaves you hungry and somewhat disappointed. I know, that’s the point but still. It certainly doesn’t envelop and hold you the way Pollack’s closing scene did. It just doesn’t.

Is it a Best Picture contender? It’s a very respectable little film, but it doesn’t really ring the bell. It’s too disciplined, too schematic, too committed to not letting anyone even flirt with the possibility of emotional release (except for the Zampano moment at the very end). It’s a movie about sad, bittersweet denial…no, no, no, no, can’t, can’t, can’t, can’t, shouldn’t, shouldn’t, shouldn’t, shouldn’t.

An actively insane opinion: