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BEFORE SUNRISE / SUNSET (review)

BEFORE SUNRISE
Written by Richard Linklater and Kim Krizan
BEFORE SUNSET
Written by Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke
Directed by Richard Linklater

Starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy

With BEFORE MIDNIGHT, Richard Linklater’s unexpected next chapter in the lives of Jesse and Celine, just about to be released, there could be no better time to go back to see how a pairing that has touched so many out there got its start and where it has been since then.

I can’t be certain but I doubt Linklater ever imagined when he met a girl and ended up spending the entire night walking around and talking with her so many years ago, that this event would not only become a film, but rather would become one of his defining works as a filmmaker and also go on to inspire cynical romantics around the globe to believe in possibilities once again. On paper, BEFORE SUNRISE is an experiment at best but on screen, thanks to the charming and somewhat surprisingly innocent performances by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, it is a reminder that love can happen when you least expect it. That being said, it is also a gift that can disappear almost as quickly as it appeared.

BEFORE SUNRISE is a tribute to happenstance. If it weren’t for the obnoxious German couple arguing loudly on the train, Celine (Delpy) would never have changed seats and would most likely have never met Jesse (Hawke). Once they strike up a conversation, the exchange becomes a game to see how long they can keep the metaphorical ball in the air while they pass thoughts and ideas back and forth in an effort to impress and to connect.

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And pass them, they do. After agreeing to keep each other company for one day in Venice before Jesse’s plane leaves in the morning, they get off the train and spend the entire night walking around the beautiful city. It is actually quite fascinating to watch these two individuals carry on about philosophy and novels and art and love. You wait for an awkward silence big enough to take them out of the moment and remind them how ridiculous they’re being but it never comes. Pulling this off is again testament to how natural Hawke and Delpy are with each other and themselves. It also doesn’t hurt that the characters are in their early 20’s and justifiably oblivious to how pedantic they come across.

During the course of their one evening together, they have many a moment that most couples with much more time with each other also have. They are shy but projecting confidence in the depth of their ideas. At times, they boost each other up, while at others, they tear each other down, almost without even realizing it. Their existence is particularly unique as their time together is both limited and entirely their own, given that they are both completely removed from anything they know and because his plane won’t wait for him. As the evening progresses though, the reality that they may never see each other again begins to surface in both of their minds.

Their time together ends, just as it always had to, and we pick up with Jesse and Celine again nine years later in BEFORE SUNSET. This sequel was nominated for an Academy Award for its screenplay but I actually found it quite sparse compared to the first entry. Nine years after they met on the train, Jesse and Celine meet again in France, where Jesse is promoting his book that is based on their experience.

There are many things I like about the concept behind BEFORE SUNSET. Jesse and Celine and both nine years older than they were when they first met. Now in their early 30’s, it is interesting to see what ideas are still at the forefront of their minds when they have a little more life experience to ground them more. We can also answer some questions that the previous film intentionally left up in the air, like did they sleep together or not that fateful night or did they see each other again six months later when they naively suggested they would do before parting ways.

There is much to catch up on but barely a moment to do so, which is my biggest complaint about this film. At a scant 80 minutes, the film unspools in near real time, allowing Celine to keep Jesse company, once again, before his plane has to leave. Only this time, he only has a little over an hour. While I’m sure this type of scenario could very well happen in reality, to force this restriction on these two characters feels somewhat punishing and leads me to wonder why Linklater even bothered reuniting them if he wasn’t going to give them a chance to breathe.

All the same, their chemistry is still there and, to a large extent, neither character has fully let go of their romantic night together. That night has seemingly informed much of how they approach their romantic lives, with many of their experiences not measuring up with the ideas they’ve built up over time about just how grande that simple evening truly was. I mean, Jesse wrote a book about it; that’s how obsessed he is with it. And of course, both have asked themselves countless times in their head, what if things had been different? What if they had tried instead of freezing that moment in time forever?

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Linklater once again leaves Jesse and Celine’s future up in the air, as Jesse sits in Celine’s living room listening to play her guitar, with his departure time getting closer and closer. Will he make it to the airport on time? Will he catch a later flight and maybe stay the night? Will either one leave their current partners to finally find out what it might be like to be with the very idea of love they hold in their hearts? We will just have to watch BEFORE MIDNIGHT to find out I guess.

BEFORE SUNRISE

4.5

BEFORE SUNSET

4

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