Before Sunset

Before Sunset

In 1994, director Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Waking Life) made Before Sunrise, a gorgeous poem of a movie about two strangers (played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) wandering around Vienna, talking, and falling in love. Ten years later, Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy have returned with Before Sunset, which reunites the same characters after Hawke has written a book about that night. Delpy appears at the final book reading of his European tour; they have less than two h
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3 thoughts on “Before Sunset”

  1. “Before Sunset” is a lovely piece of film making that feels like an 80-minute exercise in eavesdropping on a conversation between two real, knowable people–not actors on the silver screen. The movie is a rarity in this age of fifty-million dollar budgets, graphic sex, extravagant sets, and cheesy special effects (none of which I particularly mind; “Sunset” is just a nice departure from the latest multiplex thriller). It never feels contrived, the way most movie romances do; the (abundant) conversation that makes the movie work is flowing and genuine. The characters seem real, not like paid actors at all (attribute that to Hawke and Delpy’s perfect on-screen chemistry). I never got the feeling that either were just reciting lines from a script someone else had written (the director and two lead actors are given full writing credit; thus, the feeling of authenticity). This sentiment of realism holds particularly true toward the end of the film, when Celine angrily shouts at Jesse that he ruined things for her, that their night together nine years ago was as good as it’ll ever be, and now she’s forced to unfavorably compare everything to that. How can anyone act that without feeling it? I wondered.

    As its prequel, “Before Sunrise,” was nicely set in Vienna, Paris is a lovely backdrop for “Before Sunset,” with (blissfully) nary a shot of the Eiffel Tower in sight and not a note of the typical “fall in love in Paris” accordion music. But the cafes, shops, cobblestone streets, and River Seine are all present in their authentic glory.

    I thought the ending, in fitting with the rest of the film, was perfect. What ultimately happens is settled in my mind, which may vary from another’s interpretation. Isn’t it nice to be able to decide the outcome instead of being force-fed the answers? It will be a long time before I see another movie I enjoyed as much as “Before Sunset.”

  2. Maybe I sound biased because Richard Linklater’s 1995 film Before Sunrise is one of my ten or so all time favorite films, but this improved (and I thought that would be impossible!) sequel to an infinitely great film is truly the best film (so far) of 2004. The screenplay, co-written by director Richard Linklater and stars Julie Delpy & Ethan Hawke, is probably one of the most refreshing of this decade. It succeeds on so many levels because of the development of this relationship and the fact that Delpy and Hawke have such a three dimensional knowledge of these complex characters-no, human beings. Fictional of course, but they are still the most humanistic screen “couple” I’ve ever seen.

    Jesse (Hawke) and Celine (Delpy), separated for nine years, are undeniably the soul mates often described in their conversations, the ones that dig deeper than small talk. On a book tour in Paris, where Celine now lives, Jesse finds her watching him through a window as he absentmindedly describes the book he has written, which concerns two fictional lovers who meet and spend a night together-quite obviously autobiographical, when the question is implied by an interviewer. From there on, the two reunite and spend a brief but unforgettable afternoon in Paris, wandering the streets.

    The screenplay and direction are flawless. The dialogue and its delivery is so natural, so uncontrived I was convinced even more that these were real people that I knew. After all, I’ve waited nine years too (okay, not really, I only saw Sunrise a year ago). Linklater just observes all that is going on without overly glamorizing it. Delpy and Hawke take this dialogue and make it into their own-they are those Celine and Jesse as far as I’m concerned. Some of the best acting this year can be found in Sunset.

    The city of Paris serves as a fluid and dreamlike backdrop to the graceful and powerful, bittersweet and engrossing talk. Sunset is well filmed, and embraces just enough of Paris, which in fact would be more noticeable upon the inevitable second viewing. This city has never looked better on the screen!

    I liked the fact that both Jesse and Celine expressed their true feelings through an art form, he with a book, and she with a song. This clearly conveys the message that there still exists romanticism in each of them despite each characters’ biting cynicism. Although they never once said a word along the lines of “I love you,” you know throughout the entire film that they are still in love with each other. Maybe I am reading too deeply into this film, but I strongly believe that the first place that the two go, the cafĂ©, is almost like a complete reenactment of the train sequence in certain ways-it is the beginning of their journey and each place is mutual ground where Jesse and Celine are not under pressure, but they can just talk without interruptions or worries about the past.

    By the time the ending came around, I held back tears in my eyes-out of happiness for these characters. If a film can do that, it’s a winner in my mind. Those last words of the film leave you wanting more, but they are also brilliant and have stuck out in my mind amidst the philosophy and deep discussions. I won’t ruin it, but the ending is just so amazing because you know that something good is going to happen.

    Do yourself a favor and see Before Sunset before it’s too late, and then buy yourself the soundtrack as a memory of this beautiful film so that it is not forgotten until the DVD release.

    THE VERDICT: **** (A)

  3. BEFORE SUNSET is essentially a two-character conversation that speaks to the durability of ephemeral liaisons: moments of relationships no matter the length can impact lives in amazing ways. It is to the credit of Writers Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke that the impressions of the film BEFORE SUNRISE made nine years ago made such a lasting impact on these fine artists that they were able to create this ‘sequel’ in a way that speaks to each of us about events and memorable past moments.

    Jessie (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) met in Vienna nine years ago and had a brief but romantic evening, ending with a pledge to meet again in a few months to recapture their night of love. Circumstances prevented that reunion, yet nine years later Jessie, now on a tour publicizing his latest novel (one which uses his encounter with Celine as the core for his story) meets Celine again and having only a few hours before his plane leaves for New York (around sunset), the two stroll Paris, pause in a cafe, and eventually go to Celine’s Parisian apartment where Celine is invoked to sing one of her songs that in her way recalls the affair of nine years ago. Through all of this we learn how each life has changed and grown and how that ‘before sunrise’ moment altered each character’s worldview. And we never know if Jessie meets his plane!

    The extraordinary aspect of this film is the script, written in a manner that seems like the entire film is based on extemporaneous conversation. Unforced, unfettered by traditional love story telling methods, this film relies wholly upon the interaction of two very fine actors. The cinematography is seamless giving the feeling that the afternoon stroll and conversation was filmed in one sustained shoot.

    The DVD is greatly enhanced by a conversation – with Richard Linklater who brings the whole film into focus, with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy quietly demonstrating the depth of their talent both as actors, as conceptualizers, and as writers. This is a thinking person’s film, but that is not to say it is not a beautifully romantic film. It is as rare a treasure as, say, ‘My Dinner with Andre’. Highly recommended. Grady Harp, December 2004.

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