After I finished watching Richard Linklater’s 1995 film Before Sunrise, I said in my review that I wouldn’t really be able to judge that movie without watching the 2003 sequel Before Sunset. That was nothing against Before Sunrise, but the lack of real world grounding made me skeptical of how the movie played out. After watching the sequel I feel much better about both movies and I’m glad that I watched Before Sunset even though I didn’t love Before Sunrise.
The sequel picks up nine years after the first movie ends with Jesse (Ethan Hawke) doing a book signing in Paris for his book whose plot very nearly mirrors his night with Celine. Celine, having seen a sign advertising his book signing appears at the end of it and the two of them walk around the city catching up before Jesse has to go and catch a plane back to America. The passage of nine years has had a substantial impact on both, and the dialogue in this film is far more concerned with their lives instead of their views on particular issues. They do still move into hypotheticals, but this time when they do it is clear that it is based more on their experiences. Some of the cliffhangers from the first movie are answered like whether or not they went back to Austria six months later (he did, she didn’t) or whether they had sex (twice!), but overall the conversation is about their respective lives. Both Jesse and Celine’s lives have not gone quite according to plan, and it is clear they relish the opportunity to be able to talk frankly about their successes and failures. It makes for much more interesting conversation pieces, and the talks are far more emotional than before.
My problem with the first film was that the it seemed more that both Jesse and Celine fell in love with the idea of a perfectly honest night, and not with each other. However, Before Sunset is excellent at showing just how comfortable the two are with each other, and how the presence of the other let’s them finally be completely honest with themselves. Their ridiculous idealism hasn’t left completely, but it has been hardened by nine years of real life. At the end of the film I still had doubts that they could make it as a real couple, but Before Sunset makes it clear that their night together had an enormous impact on both lives. Hawkes and Delpy’s chemistry is even better than in the first film, and the slow burn between them is a pleasure to watch. Both have significant others and many other obstacles keeping them apart, but it is clear this time around just how much they love each other. The film even does a good job of answering many of the questions I still had, but leaving it somewhat open ended.
One of the other huge improvements over the first film is the fact that it takes place in real time. Obviously, Linklater couldn’t have done that with the first film since it takes place over 16 hours, but Before Sunset really benefits from it. For one Linklater uses many long takes, mainly walking shots, and these do an excellent job keeping the focus on Jesse and Celine. The use of Paris could’ve became a distraction if Linklater used more scenic cuts, but he does an excellent job of using the location only when it made sense in the conversation. After all, the film is only 81 minutes and the focus should be solely on Jesse and Celine, not their surroundings. Real time also means that their conversation is extremely authentic. We get to hear every awkward pause, every time they stumble over words, and every time they make a breakthrough. The moment is very important for the both of them and Linklater makes sure that the audience gets to experience every moment of it.
In the end the nice thing about both Before Sunrise and Before Sunset is that they are both extremely personal films, in that every viewer will see them differently. Essentially the films are simply moments in time, and the basic presentation in both allows you to take in whatever aspects you want. Both films say a lot about life and love in general and depending on your worldview it is possible to interpret these films an infinite number of ways. There is something beautiful about both the perfect moment they share in Before Sunrise and the repercussions it has in Before Sunset. In the end, the only way to really evaluate both is based on how you felt when and after watching them. That sounds cliche, but it’s the honest truth.
Up Next: I take in one of this year’s last summer blockbusters in Captain America: The First Avenger. How will it stack up against the rest of the field?