> Volume 6 > Number 23


Richard Linklater

Ethan Hawke
Julie Delpy

Release: 2 Jul. 04

Before Sunset


“That’s why I’m not talking right now about some girl I saw at a bar twenty years ago and how I always regretted not going over and talking to her.”
      --Sean (Robin William), Good Will Hunting

Life is full of moments that are destined for lamentations: the lost fortunes, careers, and loves. Whether it’s that physical attraction forged in a brief glimpse on a subway train or that emotional connection between close friends who fear ruining their relationship with a romance, these moments remain constant memories of our mistakes. We’d be completely different people if we’d just talked to that mystery girl or guy -- maybe we’d hate the people we’d become -- but that never takes away the sting of always taking the road oft traveled.

Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise had that tinge of romantic idealism, the impression of what might happen if that conversation on the train had begun. These were the two pretty intellectuals we all imagined ourselves to be, and the travels we took in Europe as youths, however chaste or torrid, romanticized: our gorgeous, if pretentious, pose became an aphrodisiac for the mysterious foreign beauty capturing our attention.

Rare are the independent film sequels, but Before Sunrise, and its open-ended grasp for the possible regretful cynicism imbedded in romantic optimism, seems perfect for the egos of its makers should they fall on hard times. That they haven’t failed in their real life endeavors since parting ways in 1995, doesn’t seem to matter: their need to resurrect the idea of Jesse and Celine are more artistic than commercial. One gets the impression that Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy would have made this movie sooner or later -- even without the added clout of Linklater’s School of Rock success, or Hawke Oscar nomination, or Delpy’s European album, their need to discover the resolve of Before Sunrise’s promised reunion would continue to haunt them.

Before Sunset is about the conversation between Celine and Jesse as they attempt to understand how they’ve changed since their departure from Vienna. Told in real-time, the whole work has the suspense of another possible open-ended exit since their time is limited to 80 minutes: as the sun fall on Paris, Jesse must catch a plane back to the States. So Linklater just lingers around them as they talk. This isn’t a showy film for the director, but certainly a telling one. The characters are filmed from every angle, as they drink, walk, and (in a nod to Jacques Rivette) go boating -- the scenes are just settings for the conversation, and the condensed Paris Linklater explores is more playfully devoid of ostentation. While there was some Vienna to show off in Before Sunrise, he only wants to look at his characters here.

That this is a film nine years later in Paris (the perfect choice for the older, wiser Jesse and Celine, the City of Lights being a richer, deeper, and larger version of Vienna) does imply the trajectory of these characters after Before Sunrise, but I intentionally do not want to say too much about the story in Before Sunset because doing so would effectively neuter the film’s impact. More than in Before Sunrise, this is an experiment in learning about people by listening to their sometimes boring conversation. It’s My Dinner with Andre where the questions are returned with vagueness, and the pleasantries hide hints of unhappiness. The arch of the film is their unwillingness to remark on what’s carved them into today’s Jesse and Celine, not the lovely paramours of 1995. Jesse’s now gaunt, his wiry body a shadow of his once exquisite frame; and Celine’s face, though more Parisian slim, is stretched by tiny wrinkles of long-existing worry, pain, and -- yes -- regret

©2004, David L. Blaylock,, 4 June 2004