By: Garrett Collins
Starring: Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy
I was pretty emphatic about my love for Before Sunrise. The non whimsical tale of two strangers who meet on a train and walk around Vienna while exchanging their thoughts on life and love felt like more than just a movie. It was a tale of many people who grew into adulthood in the 90s being represented onscreen by two optimistic twenty somethings from Generation X. So, a question I had going into Before Sunset, a film made nine years after its perfect predecessor, was why not just close the book on these characters, with the final scene of their fairy tale 24 hour life together being Jesse and Celine saying their good byes on that train platform in 1995. It would take a film written just as smartly and resisting the urge to contemporize the optimism that the prior film epitomized. It would have to show characters nine years grown, but not any different from what the ones I got to know through Before Sunrise for me to feel happy that a sequel was being made at all. With a more than a little contrived set up that consists of Celine walking into a bookstore as Jesse’s promotional tour of his new work of fiction that is based on their night together lands in Paris, I was not convinced that Before Sunset would match the great taste that the prior film left in my mouth.
Guess what? The final taste might have been even sweeter. Director Richard Linklater and stars Julie Delpy & Ethan Hawke were more than up to the task of following their prior film with one that might be even better. The crackling chemistry between the two leads is still there, and dialogue still flows from their mouths like beautiful verbal waterfalls. Yet, the obvious difference between the two films may its biggest strength. This being instead of two optimistic twenty something adults with their full lives ahead of them, Jesse and Celine are now two people who are in their thirties and have had a hard time chasing the feeling of love they felt on that one magical day together. Jesse’s physical change is more apparent than his emotional one. His leather jacket is now gone, only to be replaced by sad, time-worn lines on his face and a shorter haircut. Celine, on the other hand, has gone through a different kind of change. While not much different has happened physically, she has grown into, as Jesse calls her at one point, ‘a manic depressive activist.’ While she had a spring in her step in the last film, Celine is now an almost darkly humorless shadow of her former self. A person putting on a smiling facade. Are they only good at brief encounters or do they have a chance of finding the love they experienced that day in Vienna? It is an emotionally believable way to show how these characters have grown in the nine years between their reunion.Linklater wisely gives stakes that are similar to the last film. After Jesse spots Jesse in the library, his publicist tells him he only has seventy minutes until his plane leaves. Playing the film out in real-time, we are constantly aware of this cloud set to rain on their heads. As much fun as we are having are listening to Jesse and Celine catch up, we are constantly thinking about the inevitable separation they must once again experience. Yet, this doesn’t stop Linklater from showing the two characters go through the motions of catching up with one another. He beautifully enhances the romantic mood by keeping the soft glow of the Paris sun constantly in frame as the two characters do everything from going on boat rides and sharing a cup of coffee together. Their conversations are just as infectious. Yet, with Delpy and Hawke sharing script writing credit with Linklater, you get the feeling that they injected more than a little of their real lives into the film. Hawke especially, as his character of Jesse expresses the frustrations he is experiencing being the father of a four-year old child with a woman he doesn’t even love (Hawke would divorce Uma Thurman, the mother of two of his children, shortly after the film was released.)
The justification of a sequel to one of the most romantic films ever made is in answering questions asked in the last one. They get the one about whether they met up again in six months out of the way relatively early. However, like any great set of chronological films, Linklater has even more pressing ones to ask. Not to mention the fact that they top the open endedness of Before Sunrise’s ending with perhaps the most romantic and frustrating ending in film history. Yet, in the spirit of Linklater’s remarkable storytelling ability, I was feeling 100% of the former and 0% of the latter. At one point in Before Sunset, Jesse expresses the scenario of the only reason he wrote the book being that one day he would have a signing in Paris and she would come to it. Well, what if the only reason Linklater made a sequel to Before Sunrise was to prove that he could. Congratulations Mr Linklater. You have more than done so with me.
5 out of 5