Before Sunset Review

Nine years ago, American student Jesse (Ethan Hawke) made eye contact with beautiful French girl Celine (Julie Delpy) on a train to Vienna and they ended up spending the most romantic day of their lives together in the Austrian capital. Head over heels in love, they arranged to meet again. Jesse showed up, Celine didn't. Now Jesse has written a novel based on that encounter and he's promoting it at a book shop in Paris when in walks Celine. With less than an hour left before Jesse must leave for the airport, the pair go for a short walk together to catch up and reminisce.

Making a sequel to Before Sunrise was a risky move. Despite its modest box office performance, it's become a much loved film and Before Sunset starts out with the near-impossible task of having to follow a perfect ending. We don't want to know what happened after Jesse and Celine parted in Vienna and we certainly don't want to hear that they never met up and their lives have been miserable ever since. Heaven forbid this becomes a trend and Hollywood gives us When Harry Divorced Sally. Still, Before Sunset is anything but a lame, who-asked-for-it sequel like The Whole Ten Yards or Analyze That. It's as much an artistic experiment as a continuation of the story.

Richard Linklater, the director of both movies, has made some mainstream films including the very enjoyable School Of Rock but he's also one of the pillars of American independent cinema. Almost uniquely among today's American film-makers, he's in love with dialogue, with simply listening to people talk, and he's been consistently inventive in finding new ways to film it. Slacker, his debut, followed various colourful characters as they wandered around Austin, Texas, randomly dropping one character and picking up another. Tape was a taut, three-character drama set in a motel room. Waking Life, his most ambitious film to date, allowed its characters to describe their personal philosophies, using state of the art animation techniques to visually compliment the words. Linklater's concept for Before Sunset is to film a conversation. This has been done before - Louis Malle's My Dinner With Andre in 1982 - and the original Before Sunrise was at heart two people talking. However, that movie was set over a day and a night while the sequel takes place in real time, over 80 minutes. It was scripted by Linklater together with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy and shot with a steadicam in long takes, often lasting several minutes each.

A standard Hollywood cash-in this is not and, happily, the experiment works. Before Sunset is as charming and as enthralling as the original, but in an appropriately older and wiser way. As before, much of its success is down to the chemistry between Hawke and Delpy. I don't know how well they know each other in real life but actors rarely look this comfortable together and they effortlessly convey the complex feelings between two people who may have been made for each other, who may have blown it and who may or may not be handed a second chance. Under Linklater's unobtrusive direction, the effect is of eavesdropping on a private conversation.

Every little nuance is convincing. An early discussion of global politics between Celine, a polite, left-leaning Frenchwoman and Jesse, a proud but liberal American sounds exactly right in every detail. The real-time structure of the film allows us to follow the characters from the initial pleasure of meeting, through polite chit-chat and flirting until finally they share some unexpected and painful revelations. And after that... let's just say that, once again, the ending asks the audience to imagine its own conclusion. Whether there will be a further installment I couldn't guess but it's a measure of Linklater's achievement here to admit that the prospect is intriguing.



out of 10

Last updated: 29/05/2018 10:42:04

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