Before Sunrise begged the question, would you be willing to alter your entire life around one fateful night’s chance meeting? In that movie two twenty something’s met-cute on a train, wandered the streets of Vienna, and fell in love all the while walking and (endlessly) talking about everything under the sun. This movie asks basically the same question now that these two reconnect ten years later, this time in Paris, except now the stakes are higher and they both have more emotional baggage than they did before. Before Sunset takes place a decade removed from that night where at the end of Before Sunrise in which Jesse and Celine impulsively and foolishly decided not to exchange any contact information (or even last names) and simply agreed to meet each other at the same train station in Vienna six months later. Whether they did in fact meet up later is the mystery that gives both that, and this movie, its haunting subtext, and also its entire reason for being.
Everyone at some point has the experience of ‘the one that got away’ and all the assorted memories associated with them. Life goes on though, regardless. None of us can escape this fact and neither could Jesse and Celine. But is it ever too late to rekindle that magic captured so long ago? And beyond that, is it still practical to attempt to do so? Most often time life does not even give us the chance to ask the question, let alone find out the answer, and that is part of what makes this movie so fascinating to watch.
Jesse, now a published author, and Celine, an environmental lawyer, are no longer impulsive and naïve and free spirited twenty-somethings with nothing holding them down, but now are firmly entrenched thirty-somethings with careers, responsibilities, and their own deep personal scars to contend with. And this time their meeting isn’t so much a chance encounter as last time, although it still took a fair amount of luck and fate to orchestrate. Jesse is on tour promoting his best selling book, based upon his experiences that one night in Vienna with an enchanting French girl, no less. He wrote this book, he admits later; because it was the only way he could think of to get in touch with Celine. We’re still a year or two removed from the popular explosion of Myspace and then Facebook so just scrolling through every single ‘Celine’ in Paris on such a site might not have been an option yet. In any event, his bait worked. Celine has read the book, and its content has awoken all the sweet, but now painful, jarring memories for her. Now learning that Jesse will be in her home town for a book signing and promotional talk, she hides away in a corner of a quaint little book shop and listens as he drones on and on about high concept novel ideas and so forth, until finally, their eyes meet again for the first time in almost a decade, and the magic begins again.
Jesse and Celine go through all the preliminary niceties and catch up with one another’s lives throughout their walk through Paris, beginning with a trip to a local coffee shop, but each of them tactfully dances around and through, as people would in real life, the issues they both so desperately want to address, and that we the audience want them to address as well. It’s very much a verbal game of cat and mouse being played throughout the film. What helps to make this film’s dialogue even more personal and challenging than its predecessor is that both Hawke and Delpy helped craft the words in the screenplay themselves. Once again Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke flow through said dialogue so effortlessly that it almost seems like a putdown to call it acting. They both deserve all the praise in the world for their efforts both on an off screen here in helping to create these two wonderful characters. We learn that Jesse has married in the intervening years, and has children with his wife, who he later admits is nowadays more like a distant stranger that he shares the responsibility of running a nursery with. Celine has a boyfriend, but no children, and the relationship we sense, is not altogether that serious.
This movie does not stop and smell the roses as much as the previous one did, and as such, the Paris background, is just that, a background that while beautiful and smartly used, never comes out into the foreground as a vivid and romantic place, and almost a third character like Vienna did in the first film. Of course this may also be in large part because this film takes place entirely in the daytime, where Sunrise took place all at night, and the magic of any city is best on display at night, when you can best see the lights, and when the eccentric personalities comes out to play. There is still a lovely little shuttle boat ride through the Seine river, which for me has a call back to the scene in the record store from the first movie where Jesse and Celine both spend a wonderful awkward moment pretending not to notice how much they truly enjoy and are enchanted by each other.
Before Sunset is definitely a more challenging, but in my opinion ultimately more rewarding film than ‘Before Sunrise’. Before Sunrise may be the more aesthetically pleasing and enjoyable movie of the two, but this one has way more meat on the bones, and leaves you with more to think about afterwards. Richard Linklater once again masterfully uses that classic minimalist approach that he brings to nearly all his films to tackle life’s big issues here. Instead of watching two young people completely engrossed in the game of falling in love with one another, we get two older people who now believe themselves to be beyond such games, both doing their best to subtly open up to the other one while not saying too much that would reveal their real feelings. All this goes on throughout the film until the fantastic emotional tour de force climax where they both finally spill their guts to each other in the backseat of a chauffeured car. Once again, the acting his wonderful and this scene finally delivers what we’ve been waiting for the entire movie. This is followed by an ending that is just as mysterious and frustrating as its predecessor’s was.
Maybe I’m biased here, but if I am I do not care. I love these movies, and consider them a breath of fresh air from almost every other hodge-podge romantic movie that you’re likely to find out there. As I said at the end of the review of Before Sunrise, this is the perfect movie to watch on a date, or just at home with (or without) your significant other, as it is that rare combination of a romantic movie that doesn’t feel dumbed down, or have a forced or melodramatic plot holding it back. In the end, these movies are just like spending time with two old friends, and listening in on a very, very interesting piece of conversation about their lives, and about life itself.
Before Sunset gets a five out of five: EXCELLENT.