A movie with two people talking for two hours, honestly that sounds pretty boring. But director Richard Linklater pulled it off with thanks to a strong script and the timing and chemistry of his two leads, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke. That was nine years ago in the 1995 movie Before Sunrise. Now in 2004, Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy come together again for the sequel Before Sunset. Lightning strikes again.
Jesse (Hawke) has just written a novel and is on a book tour of Europe. His book is about two strangers: An American boy and a French girl who meet on a train and spend one night together walking around Vienna, Austria falling in love and then must part ways in the morning. Basically the same plot as Before Sunrise. The last stop on Jesse’s tour has him in Paris, France. During a question and answer session with the local press, he is asked if the two ever met up again after that night. While Jesse tries to fictionally recount what may occur between the characters in his book, spitting out ideas for a whole new novel, he notices Celine (Delpy) lurking in the back of the store. In Sunrise it was Jesse and Celine who wandered the streets of Vienna together. Once the session is over, Jesse’s assistant informs him not to run off because he has to be at the airport by 7:15 PM, so Celine and he escape to wander through the streets of Paris for a little over an hour catching up with one another.
Instead of instantaneously picking it up right where things left off, they hold back. They’re older and a lot less likely to get caught up in a moment of passion. They were in their early 20's when they met, now they’re in their early 30's. People change and more than once the two comment on how stupid they were when they were younger. You rarely see that in movies today, characters in their early thirties expressing truths and being real.
Less than halfway through Sunrise Celine and Jesse are all over each other. This time around they choose simply sit and lament. Whether it is over their youth, over their relationships since, over their own private philosophies, over not exchanging addresses or phone numbers, and ultimately over not coming together sooner doesn’t matter (though both characters do appear in Linklater’s 2001 movie Waking Life). When the movie ends you’re left begging for After Moonlight, or whatever the hell they could possible call the third one.
Unlike Sunrise, Sunset is shown in real time. Sunrise takes place over the course of approximately 12 hours. Sunset on the other hand is an hour plus journey. We follow Celine and Jesse from when they leave the bookstore all the way to the end. Within that time they are able to learn and piece together how much each has impacted the other’s life. It is immediately apparent that Jesse’s still interested (hell, he wrote a book) but it is Celine whose feelings are in question. Though you eventually learn where she stands, Celine is delightfully hard to read.
Linklater has done a brilliant job at keeping it all contained. All three (Linklater, Delpy, Hawke) had a hand in writing the script, so that personal touch between them shows. Linklater’s uses of lengthy takes and long continuous shots remain just as effective as his work on the first film. Delpy and Hawke’s chemistry has not fizzled. It worked once before and less than a decade later it still does.
If you haven’t seen Before Sunrise, this movie won’t make you feel lost. The performances are genuine and the material is broad enough that even if you’ve never heard of the first, that’s perfectly okay. For those who have, expect to be more attuned to the more subtle humor and nuance thrown into the film as Linklater puts a cap on his story. Before Sunset is only in a limited number of theatres, but I suggest trying to hunt it down. Grade A performances, top-notch writing, and brilliance behind the camera is worth the search.