Celine tells a small story about how spending time in a gloomy Communist city gradually transformed her boredom into undemanding soulfulness, draining the must-buy, must-get-where-I’m-going mentality of Western life. Jesse replies that he felt a similar simplicity of life when visiting a Trappist Monastery, but deep down he felt the monks were searching for spirituality in the same way everyday people search for their own kind of fulfillment. These two mindsets beautifully describe the subtle tension in Before Sunset
, Richard Linklater’s sequel to his 1995 film Before Sunrise
, which tracked a one-night rendezvous in Vienna between two strangers, an American and a Frenchwoman. At the time declarations on the romantic limitations of their one nightstand eventually gave way to promises of another rendezvous six months hence. Picking up ten years later, Before Sunset
reveals they never did meet up, and in real time (roughly 85 minutes) the film tracks the brief reunion the two have in Paris.
Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine’s (Julie Deply) time together is at once without time, sucked out of context and free floating through each character. The two wander the city as Paris approaches sunset, touch on their missed meeting (Jesse showed up, Celine had to attend a funeral), briefly touch upon their memories of the night (Jesse wrote a book about it, Celine seems to misremember key moments) and then simply resume where they left off-amid a long, wandering conversation. Atemporal, ahistorical, acultural, their time together is special because it is so about the interaction of their characters and not about anything else around them. At the same time the dilemma proposed in Jesse’s tale of the monastery hovers elusively around their talks, for at the back of the minds of the characters as well as the audience who has seen Before Sunrise
is the possibility, the hope that Celine and Jesse might move beyond just talking.
Linklater’s film is of barebones simplicity, following or preceding these two actors in long tracking shots or traveling shots on boats or cars that emphasizes their movement through space while freezing their moments in time. Just as the previous film took place during an endless night and exploded into emotion at the rise of the sun, its sequel lays in the golden light of the magic hour until a similarly emotionally rocking fade to black, night, and possibility. The time in between, the scant minutes that Jesse and Celine have to catch up, reconnect, and pick up where they left off flows like its own kind of philosophy, one embedded in the simple shots preceding the two down Parisian alleys or the textbook reverse-shot conversations in a café. The dialog, written by Linklater, Hawke and Delpy, is alight and natural and nearly devoid of the anecdotal-ness of Before Sunrise
, and their walk through the city is similarly drained of a vocal or visible populace.
In a way this film is a request for forgiveness for the first film. Celine and Jesse, once in their twenties, have now matured far beyond their past selves in Before Sunrise
, and, as Jesse says, have pushed their own problems deeper but learned how to cope. Thus the cynicism and eagerness that Jesse’s character suffered ten years ago has changed into a pensive mood wrought with experience. With wild success Hawk is able to subtly convey the feeling that his character has worked hard to achieve a level of self-understanding that would precede him trying to find Celine and seriously pickup where they left off-at promises of a longer and deeper relationship. Delpy on the other hand appears just as beautiful but more frail, as if short bouts of melancholy have gradually worn her down over time. Her smile is still able to do wonders Julia Roberts only dreams of, but a sadness has tainted her character in the past ten years and it is not hard to guess what sadness it is about.
Though their words flit from relationships in between to career choices and small details and thoughts on life completely incidental, their time together is all the time in the film and all the time in the world, and nothing else seems to exist, in form or in their conversation that doesn’t speak for themselves, their past, and their possibilities right at that moment. Linklater has revised and refined the situation of his previous film, honed it to a liquid flow of film, a cinematic naturalness in action and word that effortlessly engulfs Delpy and Hawke’s characters in a magical isolated moment. Ever so naturally the dilemma that pervades Jesse and Celine’s brief time together-whether to let themselves go in the moment or push towards definitive progressive in their relationship-is an experiment within the film itself. Essentially non-narrative, even in its progression and evolution of the couple’s conversation, Before Sunset
flirts both with the audience’s willingness to bask in the time with the characters and enjoy them simply for being together, and the desire to want more from them and the film itself. Seductive and effortless, Linklater’s film, springing off the eager talents of Delpy and Hawke, waxes beautiful philosophy from simplicity incarnate, achieving a sublime atmosphere.