In Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise (1995) traveling early 20-somethings Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) meet on a train to Vienna. Jesse convinces Celine, returning to university in Paris, to hop off with him in Vienna and keep him company while he waits for his flight back to the United States. Needless to say, after many fascinating conversations, clashing opinions, and shared experiences, they fall in love. When they need to part ways they don’t exchange contact details but agree to meet again in the city in six months time. Before Sunset is set nine years later in Paris. Jesse is now an author and has written a book influenced by their shared experience in Vienna. When Celine catches his eye during an interview session at a bookstore, it is their first encounter since. Writing the book and stopping in Paris, was Jesse secretly reaching out to Celine? After initial awkward exchanges, they agree – with Jesse’s flight a little more than an hour away – to pass the time together, wandering the streets reflecting on their encounter and how their lives have been affected ever since.
Sunset is an incredible film on every level, impeccably written, directed and acted, and it is embarrassing to admit that I only watched it for the first time just this month. Contrary to my belief, it proved to be even better than Sunrise, a film I would also award five stars.
Julie Delpy/Ethan Hawke
I have always been a big fan of these two actors. Delpy has proven recently she is a talented director too. Take a look at Hawke in Training Day or Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. The man has range. The two have incomparable chemistry here. You would think that they have known one another their entire lives. While the familiarity is there, they haven’t known each other long enough to not be strangers. As they are evidently curious enough about one another they deftly probe into each other’s personal vaults, unlocking suppressed and hidden feelings as their trust in one another begins to grow. In Sunrise they have nothing to hide. They’re young, adventurous and free-spirited. But in Sunset they are in their thirties, they are wiser and more worldly, they have experienced success, faced disappointment, fallen in (and out?) of love. Though it seems like they reconnect almost immediately, there are definitely feelings suppressed, and stories that are purposefully shied away from, until they find the courage. It is near impossible not to be charmed by their dorky quirks (Jesse’s ‘just kidding’ jokes for example), the confidence in their values and ideals, the whip-smart back-and-forth banter. Removing the thought that Delpy and Hawke are actors, and have a string of roles between the films, they ‘are’ Celine and Jesse.
One of the greatest sequels ever made?
Delpy and Hawke, inspired by their characters created by Linklater and Kim Krizan in Sunrise, were active collaborators in this adapted screenplay that I was pleasantly surprised to learn received a nominated at the 2004 Academy Awards. Their creative influence, taking into account their natural aging, growth in maturity as both human beings and actors (much more range is asked of them here), and further understanding of the complex paths that challenge us in life. The contemplation on the ‘what ifs’ has resulted in one of the rare intelligent sequels that is not only directly influenced by the events that took place in the preceding film, but actually takes the audience on a very different emotional journey. It also features the characters meeting for the first time since we saw them say goodbye. Just as Jesse is shocked by the way Celine inserts herself back into his life, we feel similarly. Just as Jesse is anxious to learn 'what happened', we are too.
While remaining formerly and conceptually similar, Sunset tackles richer themes. I can imagine that this was a sequel that was desired by anyone who had watched the first film. It was meant to be made. I respect Linklater, Delpy and Hawke for waiting as long as they did to bring audiences the next chapter of the lives of these beloved characters.
Love & Life
Throughout the film the pair continue to drop snippets of information about themselves, which begin to reveal that they have never fallen out of love with one another. While their awkward playfulness draws a number of laughs, it is the dramatic turn, addressing each of their frustrations and regrets not only with their present lives, but their youthful naivety also. Leaving this viewer with more than a hint of sadness. Jesse evidently hasn’t stopped thinking about Celine, essentially making her the focus of his novel. When asked if it based on an actual experience he skirts around admitting that it is. He has a fond memory, perhaps his happiest, but it had pained him to recollect. Eventually, the pair find themselves in a similar situation – Jesse needing to leave, the future of their relationship uncertain. Faced with the unexpected meeting have they made sense of the romantic uncertainty that has been plaguing them all of this time, and if so, what are they going to do? It is one of the finest romantic human dramas I have ever seen. It addresses the nostalgia of love and the decisions we make in life amidst the misty haze clouding our judgment.
Paris, like Vienna, is a handsome and romantic location to set their unexpected rendezvous. It is picture-postcard of the city without ever trying hard to be one. As the pair wander the streets and parks, order coffee in a café and take a cruise down the Seine, we are taken to some of the city's quaintest spots. The lengthy takes not only ensure the film feels like it plays out in real time, but it keeps us gripped by not interrupting what the characters are discussing, while offering an opportunity to take in the beauty that surrounds them.
Of course I can’t discuss what happens in the film’s final minutes, but it really is the perfect ending. The sort of ending that now makes Before Midnight easily one of this year’s most anticipated films.
Andrew Buckle - follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22