Before Sunset Movie Review

Nine years ago, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) turned a chance meeting on a train into a romantic 24 hours wandering the streets of Vienna. At the end of Richard Linklater's engaging Before Sunrise (1995), the young one-night lovers go their separate ways -- Jesse back to the U.S. and Celine back to France -- their hearts captured and the promise of their separate futures ahead of them.

Now, the pair meets again in this unlikely sequel that reunites the two stars with writer/director Linklater, returning to his do-it-yourself roots after the wild commercial success of his School of Rock. In Before Sunset, he stays true to his original characters while bringing them into an updated world where their lives may not be what either expected.

Jesse is enjoying the success of his first book, an unapologetically romantic novel based, not so subtly, on his first fateful encounter with Celine. When his whirlwind PR tour takes him to a Parisian bookstore, Celine shows up to see him. He's got 20 minutes to catch up before hopping on a plane, and the pair leaps right back into the type of conversations that took place back in Vienna.

The consistent lobbing and volleying of ideas between them is the same, but the content has changed. The views and philosophies that were once the focus of their dorm room-style banter in Sunrise have become much bigger. Celine is a passionate pessimist when it comes to world ecology, but she actually has a career fighting for a cleaner planet. The oft-fumbling Jesse is still wowed by art, literature, and culture, but now he's a willing participant sitting on a minor hit book.

Their common denominator, still, is that they think of one another. While this all may sound very Bridges of Madison County to the uninitiated, Linklater doesn't tell a saccharine story. His lead characters (and lead actors) have an urban hipness that transcends a tacky I'll-never-forget-you tone that other storytellers might lean on to the point of knocking it over. Linklater, who shares a screenwriting credit with both Hawke and Delpy (they all worked together on the curious Waking Life, by the way), knows not to have Celine and Jesse's conversation be about the standard stuff. Yes, they discuss their lives and their blissful night together, but they also chat about other issues, some broad and some mundane. Calling it My Dinner with Jesse (My Coffee with Jesse?) might be fair, especially since the pair is even more insular than their first meeting, but sitting alongside their exchange of the occasional political barb is the romance between them.

Don't be put off if you haven't seen Before Sunrise. In quick, no-dialogue flashbacks, Linklater inserts scenes from that first film that establish the couple's look, their setting, their gaze upon one another. It provides enough of a springboard to illustrate that time has gone by quickly (Jesse claims it feels like two months) and that the couple's hopes and promise during their first connection may not have manifested.

As Before Sunrise comes to a close, the film takes on that desperate feeling that two friends, whose romance may truly be written in the stars, will have to part. In Before Sunset, that pressure is not as palpable, but the stakes are much higher: life's opportunities may now be fewer, or may have been missed altogether. All three of the film's primary collaborators take advantage of their own opportunities with this one, layering Jesse and Celine's 80-minute conversation with a freshness, a surprising urgency, and two characters full of desire, faults, and - still - hope.

The DVD adds a short behind-the-scenes featurette to this wonderful little film.

When Ethan met Delpy... again.


Before Sunset Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: R, 2004


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