Movie review by Greg Carlson
“Before Sunset” is one of busy filmmaker Richard Linklater’s most deeply felt and satisfying movies. A real-time sequel to 1995’s “Before Sunrise,” (the uber-undergraduate backpacker in Europe fantasy) the new work is simply astonishing throughout its entirely concise 80-minute running time. Wistful and occasionally heartbreaking, “Before Sunset” is the rarest of all sequels in that it catapults the relative insignificance of the first film into a universe that is suddenly concrete and identifiable. Gliding along on the strength of Steadicam operator Jim McCroskey’s perfect compositional balance, “Before Sunset” is at once so beautifully fragile and so classically constructed that it must be placed alongside the great romantic films.
Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy reprise their roles as Jesse and Celine, and the two actors had considerable input into the creation of the new script. Because the film is one continuous conversation (in many ways reminiscent of “My Dinner With Andre”), Linklater and co-writer Kim Krizan have the golden opportunity to delve into the psyches of their creations. Even more remarkable is the world-weary maturity that marks the second encounter of Jesse and Celine: the events of “Before Sunset” take place nine years following the action of the first movie, and every single one of those days can be felt in the conversation shared by the two leads.
“Before Sunset” has a remarkable urgency in its narrative, which ideally captures the awkward thrill of seeing someone special after nearly a decade of almost daily thought. Jesse is now a successful writer, and his book tour has taken him to Paris. Naturally, his novel recounts in autobiographical detail the night he spent with Celine in Vienna all those years ago. Celine has read Jesse’s book, and shows up at the signing. Even though his plane is set to leave in about an hour, Jesse and Celine journey through the city in order to catch up with each other, and their discussion is segmented by the many gorgeous sights of a sun-dappled Paris.
Admirers of the original movie will recall that it ended with a mutual promise by the characters to reunite exactly six months following their magical encounter. Linklater immediately disabuses the romantics in the audience of the notion that Jesse and Celine found their way back to each other (fortunately, his new layers of intense, personal, star-crossed destiny make up for the failed rendezvous). Celine’s grandmother died, and she could not meet up with Jesse because of the funeral. This information rekindles the same thrill and desire the two had discovered in the past, and both Delpy and Hawke are at their absolute finest in the skin of these one-time lovers.
Linklater’s fans – who were afforded a tantalizing moment with Jesse and Celine in animated form in “Waking Life” – are richly rewarded for their patience. Linklater intersperses some shots from “Before Sunrise” into the new film, and the effect, which shows just how much both people have aged, is arresting. “Before Sunset” adds up to one of the most powerful conclusions captured on film this year, a moment of clarity perfectly attenuated in the equilibrium of certainty and doubt. The final few minutes, punctuated by an acoustic guitar waltz and a Nina Simone impression delivered with supreme seductiveness by Celine, speak volumes about the tentativeness of love and the guarantee of loss. Who knows what will happen?
This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 8/23/04.