– Summary –
Director : Richard Linklater
Year Of Release : 2003
Principal Cast : Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Vernon Dobtcheff.
Approx Running Time : 80 Minutes
Synopsis: After 9 years apart, Jessie and Celine reunite for one evening in Paris, where Jessie is on a book tour and about to return to the USA.
What we think : Richard Linklater’s sequel to Before Sunrise involves more walking, more talking, and more emotional depth to our two favorite lovebirds, as they take a stroll around Paris and rekindle their love-lost during a brief catch-up. Fans of the first film (of which I have become on) will enjoy the continuing “adventures” of Jessie and Celine, as they rediscover their feelings for each other, and the fact that those feelings haven’t faded in the years since their first brief encounter. A delight from open to close.
The ache of regret.
Regret can be an all consuming emotion, can’t it? As hard as it is to admit, I doubt there’s a person alive who doesn’t regret something about their lives, some kind of missed opportunity or a choice not made, a decision leading down a path of hardship – regret is probably one of the most heartbreaking emotions a human can endure, mainly because it rarely fades with time. If anything, regret is a feeling that only grows with the passage of time, as the distance between the event and the present becomes larger. For Jessie and Celine, who met for a brief 24 hour encounter back in 1994, and who promised to meet at the Vienna train station 6 months later (roll credits!), it’s been 9 years since that fateful meeting. While it’s obvious that time has passed for them, what is unknown as the film opens is whether they did indeed meet up, hook up again, or did one of them bail before the event? Before Sunset broaches this topic – and more – giving us another glimpse into the relationship between two of cinema’s great romantic figures.
Jessie (Ethan Hawke) is now a successful author, having written a fictional story based on the events told in Before Sunrise. It’s been around 9 years since Jessie met Celine (Julie Delpy); while Jessie is spruiking his book in a Parisian bookstore (Shakespeare & Company), Celine approaches, keen to catch up. With a plane to catch imminently (naturally), Jessie decides to walk to a cafe with Celine for a coffee – as they do, we learn that Jessie did indeed return to Vienna to meet up with Celine as they’d agreed, only Celine couldn’t be there due to her grandmother passing away at the time. As their conversation starts to turn towards their lives lives since, Jessie reveals that he has since been married and has a child, although he’s not entirely happy in that relationship, while Celine has been in an un-fulfilling relationship for a while now, although she does not have any children. The longer they talk, the more they regret their failure to meet as agreed originally, although both of them soon realize that their meeting now is perhaps the universe’s way of telling them they need to get back together.
I’m still not entirely sure which kind of film would be harder to make: a massive explosion-fueled blockbuster on a gazillion dollar budget, or a low budget drama in which the only thing that happens is two people wandering around a city, just talking? Frankly, I think it would be harder to make a film like Before Sunset, because you can’t hide behind effects or explosions or hokey dialogue between gunfire; you have to somehow get the audience to invest in the characters, something a big budget explodey-fest never really needs to accomplish beyond the superficial. Beyond Sunset approaches its story in the exact same manner as its predecessor, Before Sunrise, in that it’s a blazingly simple premise executed with stunning precision and terrific lead performances; Jessie and Celine, who are really perfect for each other, wander about Paris rekindling the spark of romance (and smoothing over the regret of opportunity lost), just talking. Again, if you found Before Sunrise a little boring or not quite to your taste, you’ll probably come away from this sequel wanting to put a bullet in your head, because it delivers a similarly paced, acted and written film as the previous outing, only here our characters are more mature, more rounded and vastly more interesting than they were even to begin with.
Before Sunset is written by Richard Linklater, although he also had assistance from the two leads, Delpy and Hawke, who are co-credited for the (Academy Award nominated) screenplay. No doubt the collaborative experience worked well, because the trio would do a similar job on the eventual sequel to this film, Before Midnight, yet one has to wonder where previous co-scripter Kim Krizan went and why she wasn’t included. Not that it matters, really, because the tonal differences between Before Sunrise and Before Sunset are insignificant, if not invisible – the film is a direct continuation from Sunrise’s narrative, albeit some time later. Given the “real time” gap between Sunrise and Sunset, the characters’ lives have obviously been filled with intermediary events that this film needs to cover, which it does, and as things progress the pair slip into a more melancholy, regretful state – if Before Sunrise was the hopeful film about One True Love, Before Sunset is the film of regret.
Before Sunset builds its story around allowing these characters to unwrap themselves emotionally the longer they walk – or sit or float on a boat, with a nice cruise down the Seine involved this time – and it builds to a confrontation of sorts as they drive to Celine’s apartment, where she becomes so angry with herself and Jessie for the time they spent apart; yeah, Before Sunset is the film where we learn that Celine really is as crazy as a cut cat. But it’s a natural, evolving process for the characters, that plays out with plausibility and nuance, rather than some cobbled half-truth that rings hollow, and I applaud both Linklater and Hawke and Delpy for getting into these characters and not taking an easy option to excuse any of their behavior.
Like its predecessor, Before Sunset ends on a “cliffhanger” of sorts, with the outcome of Jessie and Celine’s conversation unresolved, although it’s heavily intimated that Jessie purposefully misses his plane, leading to them embarking on a relationship. Again, this is all supposition (borne from the fact that the sequel, Before Midnight, sees the pair 9 years later actually in a relationship), but it’s crafty of Linklater to leave us hanging once again. The previous film ended rather ambivalent to the fate of the two lovers, with each of them riding a train (in opposite directions) and knowing smiles on their faces; here, it’s a lot less ethereal, more pointed, that the ending is left ambivalent. This unresolved tension is no doubt the catalyst for the film’s success, because it doesn’t ever pander to the “Hollywood romance” template by having them rush lovingly into each others’ arms, smooching and canoodling as the credits roll. Nope, this film attempts to make things as realistic, as raw and unfettered as possible. Does it succeed? Yes, magnificently.
If you’re a romantic at heart, and enjoy a good story about people rather than relationships, Before Sunset will be right up your alley. Having knowledge of the previous film is essential, if you’re to have an emotional connection with a lot of the dialogue and subtext involved here, but by the end of it, it really does stand as its own film. Linklater’s steadycam direction is effortless, free of ostentation and lacking in “look at what famous bits of Paris we shot” money-porn, and the acting from both Hawke and Delpy is ripe with frustrated, unspoken subtlety. Before Sunset is a terrific film in and of itself, and as a sequel remains one of the more memorable follow-ups to an otherwise classic original. Definitely worth your time.