Before Sunset

I really enjoyed Before Sunset (IMDB). I’ll admit that I’m very much a sucker for Richard Linklater’s talky, meandering, philosophy-lite films, and I’ve always had a special fondness for the romance in Before Sunrise. I watched the original in my tiny, drafty attic apartment while I was in graduate school deep in the heart of Indiana, and Sunrise gave me a wonderful escape. Of course, as a graduate student/wanna-be novelist, I identified pretty deeply with Jesse, the Ethan Hawke character, but the film itself felt “timeless,” like Jesse and Celine (Julie Delpy) had somehow stepped outside the world for just one night, and of course, I’d appreciated the original film’s ambiguous ending (I’ll try not to be too specific).

Because I had such fond memories of the original, I worried that the sequel would dissapoint me, but Linklater, Delpy, and Hawke have managed to update Celine and Jesse’s story in a powerfully effective way, and like the cinetrix, I’d love to have an Antoine Doinel-style series. The sequel begins with Jesse giving a talk at a bookshop in Paris on his novel, a thinly fictionalized account of his night with Celine. Celine, who has spotted an advertisement for the book signing shows up and the two immediately begin talking, reconnecting after nine years apart, and like the original film, Celine and Jesse have a limited amount of time, in this case about an hour and a half, before Jesse has to catch a plane. The film uses the Paris setting nicely (I even remembered a spot along the Seine where I ate a sandwich one afternoon), and the use of real-time adds to the intensity of their reunion. In fact, I think it would have been a mistake not to tell this particular chapter of their lives in real time.

I won’t say much more about the film, or its plot, other than to note that it presented characters who had clearly endured the last nine years developing, growing, and struggling. Stuart Klawans’ review in AlterNet conveys the spirit of the film nicely. It’s a movie about lost opportunities and alternate selves, about the desire to regain the open possibilities they had when they were 23. It’s also a movie about the worlds or lives they’re escaping. Although their lives and jobs are generally satisfying (he’s a novelist, she’s an environmentalist), there’s a clear sense that something is missing for both of them. As Stuart Klawans points out:

The trick here – an excellent one – is that the lovers know they’re in a time bubble. When it pops and life’s mess pours in, Celine and Jesse won’t seem so admirable.

But will the bubble pop? A movie builds suspense; and as the minutes tick by in Before Sunset, the people on screen and in the audience alike wonder more and more intently if Jesse will catch that airplane.

I will say no more, except that time has rarely passed in a film with such apparent ease and spontaneity, yet with such rightness in every moment. Working with the very rudiments of movies, Linklater, Delpy and Hawke have sustained a flawless performance – one that’s warm, thoughtful, funny, sexy, charming and in all ways alive.

2 Comments »

  1. Francois Lachance Said,

    July 11, 2004 @ 9:26 pm

    Just to tie in Chuck’s entry on the film with the subsequent entry on appreciations for literature, allow me to quote a little from and interview with Ethan Hawke : “Writing is something that’s wonderful and peaceful […] Writing is so calm. if you don’t get it today, you’ll get it tomorrow, you know? Nobody’s watching. So in a way it’s lonely, it’s boring. What’s wonderful about performing is the collaboration.”

    Could it be that all those folks that are neither reading novels nor plays nor poems are writing, telling stories, making pictures? The question to ask might be if those nonreaders or poems, plays or novels have written about a film or a concert, remixed some samples, played with digital photo editing or even got funky with fonts while wordprocessing?

    The quotation from Hawke is from the Toronto weekly, NOW in the July 8-14, 2004 issue.

    And there are the emphemeral performances of the cell-phone artists — micro theatre in the round.

  2. chuck Said,

    July 12, 2004 @ 1:05 pm

    Funny, Francois, I found the juxtaposition of these two entries rather perplexing–a highly literate, and literary, film by Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke (who also writes novels), and a response to Harold Bloom’s screed about teh delcine of literate culture.

    Thanks for providing the synthesis with Ethan Hawke’s comments in the Toronto newspaper/magazine.

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