Thursday, July 15, 2004
The all-in-one-night love story that unfolded in Before Sunrise really turned out to be an affair to remember.
In that 1995 Richard Linklater movie, two strangers on a train meet, talk, disembark to spend the night together in Vienna, talk, walk, talk some more, and then the next day continue on their separate ways, while promising to rendezvous at a certain spot in exactly six months. Last names and phone numbers were never shared; the twentysomething Celine (Julia Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) preferred trusting in promises and fate to determine the future.
Linklater’s new film, Before Sunset, revisits these two characters, nine years later and now somewhere in their mid-30s. The pair never convened for their six-month reunion, and have learned from that non-event and other life experiences that fate is fickle and unfulfilled promises are a dime a dozen. Yet the spark still lingers, and it’s stronger than the mere memory of one perfect night spent nine years ago. It exists in the present when Jesse gives a reading of his debut novel (based on the story of their Vienna night together) in a Parisian bookstore and Celine attends.
Paris is the last stop on his book tour and Jesse is scheduled to leave for his flight back to the States in an hour. What can they do with that small amount of time? Why, walk and talk, of course. If this sounds like a formula for static, navel-gazing cinema, and the critical comparisons between Before Sunset and the heavily conversational films of Eric Rohmer and My Dinner With Andre have furthermore left you unconvinced of Sunset’s entertainment possibilities, then I (and the rest of the critical mob) have failed to describe this film accurately.
Before Sunset is a fluid, engaging, charming, frustrating, funny, and lively movie. The characters have seasoned over the years, their outlooks are not as carefree as they were in their youth, and their responsibilities in life have multiplied and grown roots. The filmmakers, too, have grown along with the characters. Delpy and Hawke wrote the Before Sunset screenplay with Linklater, based on characters Linklater created with his Before Sunrise co-screenwriter Kim Krizan. Although the characters and their backstories are carefully thought out, Delpy and Hawke deliver their dialogue as if spontaneous and unmeditated. Each one has grown warier than before, but there is still something utterly romantic and seemingly predestined about these two.
Linklater teases, tricks, and revels in time’s resoluteness and its contours as he films Celine and Jesse with long, absorbing camera takes that provide the illusion of events happening in real time, while always keeping us cognizant of its passing.
It would take another essay to document Linklater’s striking use of time in virtually all of his work: Suffice it to say that the Before Sunrise/Sunset characters offer Linklater enough material to consider a 42 Up sort of series that revisits its subjects every so often. Who these characters (and the filmmakers behind them) become as they near middle age and beyond could provide rich material for numerous films in a Before Alzheimer’s series.
Before Sunset may be the world’s least-anticipated sequel. In interviews, Linklater has joked that Before Sunrise is the least-successful film ever to spawn a sequel. But conceding to conventional logic has rarely been Linklater’s path.
If nothing else, Before Sunset reminds us that there
indeed can be a point to making a sequel, and provides the
following lesson: Next time, get the phone number in
BEFORE SUNSET (4 Stars)
Directed by Richard Linklater
Starring Ethan Hawke, Julia Delpy
(Rated R, 80 min.)