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Before Sunset

October 13, 2011

Before Sunset (2004)
Director: Richard Linklater
Actors: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy

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Synopsis: Jesse (Ethan Hawke) is promoting the publication of his book in Paris. There he bumps into Céline (Julie Delphy) – the French girl he met in Vienna some nine years earlier – and they spend the afternoon wandering around Paris.

Review: Richard Linklater’s poignant treatise on young love, Before Sunrise – which featured twentysomething inter-railers Jesse and Céline spending one magical, spontaneous day together in Vienna – has finally been complimented by this follow-up, which sees the same characters, some nine years later, meeting up in Paris where Jesse is promoting a book.

Although Before Sunset is less an achievement in its own right than its predecessor (which could easily stand alone as a pitch-perfect ode to the wonders of youth and travel), it still accrues great poignancy as a thirtysomething and ‘adult’ counterpart to the optimism of the first film. Linklater even plays on this in-built poignancy by making the characters’ simple ageing process a feature of the film: Céline points to the new lines and contours on Jesse’s face, and flashbacks to both characters’ youthful bloom in the first film counterpoints their older, world-wearied selves in the present day.

One strength of Before Sunset is that the de facto real time theme of the first film is made a literal, live event here. Before Sunrise charted a day spent together by the couple, but Before Sunset follows Jesse and Céline minute-by-minute through their afternoon together, from their meeting in the bookshop, to their climactic moments in Céline’s apartment. This real-time feature helps accentuate the heartbreaking sense of transience in Jesse and Celine’s rendezvous, and compliments the melancholy and sense of regret that cloaks this second film.

The film’s slightly abrupt and inconclusive climax puzzled me on early viewings, but over time and on reflection, I actually appreciate the sentiment it conveys. As the end-titles roll while Jesse and Céline relax in her apartment, listening to Nina Simone, it’s the suitable epiphanic moment to all the soul-searching and agonising over the preceding seventy minutes (and to some extent the first movie as well). After all the endless conversations, debates and skits, Jesse and Céline have reached a moment of spiritual communion, where they realise that the time to “seize the moment” and honour their once-in-a-lifetime mutual attraction has begun…(October 2011)

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