Before Sunset Review

This review contains major spoilers for Before Sunrise

Before Sunrise has been a favourite film of many people since its release in 1995. At the end of the film, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) saw Celine (Julie Delpy) off on her train as they vow to meet again in Vienna in six months’ time. But did this did actually happen? Jesse and Celine made a brief appearance in Linklater’s 2001 film Waking Life but it wasn’t until 2004’s Before Sunset that we found out the answer.

Before Sunset takes place in Paris in 2003. After an opening credits scene showing many of the key locations, the action of the film takes place in real time. Jesse has written a novel based on that night in Vienna and is at the end of a European book tour. He’s at a bookshop answering questions from the public. So who should show up but Celine? For an hour and a quarter, the two of them walk and talk around Paris. Brief extracts from Before Sunrise remind us of what happened earlier – and how much Hawke and Delpy’s appearance has changed in the meantime. Jesse is now none-too-happily married with a young son that he adores. Celine is still single, active in environmental causes, and sees herself as the kind of woman that men leave to marry someone else. Jesse did turn up in Vienna again, but Celine didn’t, due to the death of her grandmother. It also turns out that for three years at the end of the 1990s they were both living in New York City, but didn’t bump into each other. The film ends in Celine’s flat, where she sings him a song she has written (he’s not the only one to have found artistic inspiration in their one previous night together) and… Well, you’ll have to watch the film for yourself, but it’s sufficiently – but perfectly – open-ended to allow the possibility of another sequel.

The film was shot on a 15-day schedule on a very small budget ($10 million), which caused difficulties in maintaining continuity of lighting. Hawke and Delpy contributed to the script, and may explain the loose, improvisatory feel the dialogue and acting have. Linklater’s direction is simplicity itself, often following the actors in long Steadicam shots. Once again, this is a film where not much “happens” – talk is action – so if you hated Before Sunrise don’t even bother with this one. Before Sunset is a film with a cooler emotional temperature than its predecessor: the two principals are older and wiser, and bear more scars from life. But it’s soon clear, after the initial awkwardness how much affection there remains between them.Before Sunset, like its predecessor, shows a distinct Eric Rohmer influence. Like him, Linklater relies on dialogue to do a lot of work, to let subtle nuances reveal character. It doesn’t have to be wise or profound dialogue, in fact it’s often anything but…but it is certainly realistic dialogue. Once again, you feel as if you’re eavesdropping on other people’s lives.

Before Sunset is available on its own or as part of a box set with Before Sunrise. It’s my guess that anyone likely to buy this film will be interested in the earlier film, so in the interests of value for money, the affiliate links to the left refer to the box set rather than the single edition. Differing rights holdings for the two films make for different DVD specifications between the two discs. The UK release of Before Sunset has a different region encoding (2 and 5 only – the earlier film has 4 as well) has only one soundtrack language instead of three and a different set of subtitle options. It has sixteen chapter stops, which is plenty for such a short film.

The DVD transfer is 1.78:1 anamorphic, as with Before Sunset opened up slightly from the theatrical ratio of 1.85:1. Despite the short length and the small number of extras, this film is still given a two-layer DVD release (5.15 GB) and the transfer looks fine. As the film progresses, the sun casts a deepening shade of orange over the image, as befits a late afternoon in Paris. The image is a little soft, but that’s not unpleasing for a film like this.

The soundtrack is Dolby Digital 5.1, in the original English only. As with Before Sunrise, brief snatches of non-English dialogue are left untranslated. This isn’t reference material in the slightest, and might as well be mono apart from some street sounds over the surrounds.

There are two extras on this disc, one of them in common with the Before Sunrise DVD. That’s the theatrical trailer (2:15), but unlike the earlier disc it’s anamorphically enhanced (ratio 1.85:1) and has a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround track.

The other extra is a featurette, “On the Set of Before Sunset” (9:50). This is rather more than the piece of self-congratulatory EPK fluff it may resemble. Interviewees include Linklater, Hawke, Delpy and producer Anne Walker-McBay and we get some sense of the challenges of making a real-time film in just fifteen days, and of how the actors collaborated in writing the script. It’s fine as far as it goes for its short length, but you end up wanting more. Given the nature of the film there probably weren’t any deleted scenes, but a commentary from Linklater with or without Hawke and Delpy might have been welcome.

If you loved Before Sunrise then you stand a good chance of loving Before Sunset as well. The DVDs are well presented as far as they go, though you can’t help wondering if there might be a more fully-featured special edition at some future date.

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Last updated: 19/04/2018 10:00:08

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