Before Sunset Movie Review
"Before Sunrise" opens with an elusive author (Ethan Hawke) on a book tour in Paris, fending off interview questions about why his best-selling novel -- which takes place on a single summer night of intellectual, spiritual and romantic magic between an American backpacker and a pretty French college student -- ends without revealing whether the two ever meet again.
"To answer that would take the piss out of the whole thing," he smiles Puckishly yet pointedly, and with an ever-so-slight air of literary self-importance.
It's a bold and cheeky way for director Richard Linklater to begin this sublime surprise sequel to the very same story -- originally told in his 1995 sleeper hit "Before Sunrise."
Back then Hawke was Jesse, the youthfully philosophical tourist who has grown up to be the author, and Julie Delpy was Celine, the student who nine years later has become an environmental activist -- and who turns up unexpectedly at this very book signing, much to Jesse's delighted, hope-fulfilled astonishment.
Did the two meet six months after their first encounter, as they had promised at the end of "Before Sunrise"? Is this reunion a fated first or one of many over the years? Or have they been lovers, broken up, moved on and reunited? You're not getting a peep out of me!
But I will reveal that "Before Sunset" feels as if these sharp-witted, contemplative and agreeably captivating characters have picked up right where they left off -- except with nearly a decade's worth of more worldly wisdom and the memories of that night having turned into emotional ripples that have never subsided in the ponds of their souls.
A little 80-minute gem, all the more remarkable for taking place in real time (Jesse has a flight to catch) and in long, natural, single takes of fluid free-association, the film's narrative simplicity is balanced by its psychological complexity. Both mischievous, seemingly guileless Jesse and lighthearted yet vulnerably passionate Celine have become wary of love, each in unique ways, and their deeper, more consequential tête-á-tête reflects this in stories of derailed relationships, sexual maturation and emotional baggage.
Politics and fond memories, personal ambitions and theories of how to embrace life's small victories -- somehow it all comes back to that night in ways that stoke the fires of the remarkable, downright infectious chemistry between Hawke and Delpy. But it also stirs up a sea of regrets and accumulative heartbreak that create moments of euphoria and moments emotional claustrophobia.
Linklater, Hawke and Delpy (who all collaborated on this story that plays out so spontaneously and unaffectedly) have created a modest masterpiece of modern romantic temperament and trepidation, culminating in a simple moment of wondrous warmth and anticipation that is so ingenuous, stirring and memorable that it tops the rewardingly open-ended finale of its predecessor.
Beautifully photographed to boot -- providing a visceral, complimentary but unobtrusive sense of late spring in Paris -- "Before Sunset" is the perfect summer-movie palette cleanser, yet at the same time something far more insightful and resounding. It's an astute crowd-pleaser. It's the kind of movie you watch for 80 minutes, then talk about for two hours.