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Reviews

Before Sunset

Before Sunset

Richard Linklater

USA, 2004

Credits

Review by Victoria Large

Posted on 02 July 2012

Source Warner bros. DVD

Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise is a beautiful film with a pitch-perfect ambiguous ending: a boy and girl who’ve spent one brilliant night together vow to meet up in Vienna in six months, without so much as exchanging addresses, phone numbers, or last names. The viewer is left to imagine a possible future, or lack thereof, for the pair.

Unless, that is, said viewer opts to watch Before Sunset, the sequel that reunited Linklater and his stars Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke nine years after the release of the original film. The choice to resume the story is a gamble given how dearly fans have come to regard the first film, not to mention how unlikely it often is for a sequel to live up to its predecessor. Yet Before Sunset manages to invoke many of the virtues of Before Sunrise while also bringing rich new elements to the equation.

This time we open with Hawke’s character Jesse (now christened with the last name Wallace) addressing questions at a Paris book signing for his newly published novel. The novel is autobiographical, of course: it’s about a boy and a girl and a promise made in Vienna. And as if by magic, the girl, Celine, materializes just as the Q&A winds down. Jesse and Celine find that they’re on a time limit once again – he has a plane to catch at nightfall – but they also launch almost immediately into the same comfortable, thoughtful conversation that they shared so long ago.

The dreaminess of the first film has dissipated to a degree – this one briskly unfolds almost in real time, and the pair spend more scenes in the unromantic back of a car on this trip – yet we do get a lovely journey down the sun-kissed Seine, and a truly memorable interlude that finds Celine shyly performing a nameless waltz. There’s real romance here, and real pleasure in seeing Jesse and Celine reunited. Delpy and Hawke still share powerful chemistry, and the writing is still sharp and philosophical. But I think that the key to this film’s success may be the fact that Linklater does not attempt to ignore the nine years that have passed since the first film.

It never descends into bitterness, but Before Sunset is laced with grown up feelings of regret. For reasons beyond their control, Celine and Jesse never did meet each other on their specially appointed day, and that disappointment has colored their lives in some very tangible ways since then. Indeed, once the initial magic of finding one another again has had a chance to subside, Jesse and Celine begin to break down with their frustrations, getting angry at each other, though their real complaint seems to be with fate. Before Sunset is no turgid meditation on lost youth and thwarted love, but Linklater’s leads are perhaps more breakable this time around (“I feel like if someone were to touch me, I would dissolve into molecules,” Jesse tells Celine), and they’re more emotionally edgy. It’s an approach that feels fiercely honest, and it keeps the film on the safe side of sentimentality while still recapturing the spark that animated the first film: that of possibility. This is a film that suggests that even when time is short, it could still be time enough. It allows us to revisit a pair of old friends, and it leaves us, again, with threads of their story to dream on.

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