Before Sunset

30 Jun

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Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) first met nine years on a train travelling through Europe and, acting impulsively, decided to spend a day together in Vienna. They struck up a great bond and a beautiful romance, but each knew they had only that one day together. Those events were charted in the excellent Before Sunrise. Now, in Before Sunset, chance and circumstance have brought the two together again, this time for barely more than an hour.

Whereas last time, the meeting was completely unplanned, there is slightly more to it this time round. Jesse is now a best-selling author conducting a promotional book tour that has brought him to Paris. Evidently, he has written a novel based heavily on his first meeting with Celine. The last time they met, they agreed to meet each other in Vienna six months later. As this film takes place almost an entire decade later, we know that that didn’t happen. Now though, Celine has seen a poster for Jesse’s appearance in her favourite Parisian bookstore and she pays him a visit. They go for a coffee and spend some together. Just as it was in the first film, there is a dark cloud hanging over the story the whole time – the fact that they have such limited time together again.

The film opens with an emotional kick, with a beautiful song playing over the opening shots of Paris. The song is by Delpy herself; “Now we are together, sitting outside in the sunshine, but soon we’ll be apart”. The words are both a nod to the first film and a good set up for this story.

Just as with Before Sunrise, everything here feels so incredibly realistic. When Jesse see’s Celine again for the first time, there’s no overblown emotion. He wanders over to her and utters a simple “Hi. How are you?” I said it in my previous review, but it’s worth repeating; this hits home because it’s grounded so much in the real world. This is how people converse with each other, it’s natural dialogue and creates the feeling once again that these are relatable characters.

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Writer and director Richard Linklater wastes no time in quickly establishing why the pair didn’t meet again six months after Before Sunrise and, like everything else in this story, it is moving and engaging. It’s a natural response to a sequel to worry that it won’t live up to it’s predecessor, especially if it has had as big an effect on you as Before Sunrise had on me. In this respect, I did have the advantage that this film has been around for nine years and is highly acclaimed. In any case, any such worries were immediately eased.

Hawke and Delpy have done an incredible job of keeping together their astounding chemistry, bouncing off each other in the most natural way. On this evidence, you’d have to assume that they get on well in real life. If that chemistry was the great achievement of the first film, then it’s made more impressive by the time distance between the two movies.

Once again, the dialogue that Richard Linklater and Kim Krizan have created for the two leads is exceptional. It’s witty, endearing and intelligent, all whilst being so natural. There are some clever references to the first film. Early on, Jesse and Celine ponder why they didn’t just exchange phone numbers when they left each other on that night in Vienna. They surmise that they were just “young and stupid”. It’s a good nod to the fans of the first film who, in the intervening years, doubtless wondered the same thing.

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Linklater continues with the great filming techniques he displayed first time around with this pair. The focus is never off them. We’re constantly staring straight at Jesse and Celine as they converse, dropping us right in on their conversations. The cinematography is strikingly simple again; as the pair walk through the backstreets of Paris, they are fantastically framed as the camera leads them from in front.

I also liked some of the filming during an early scene in a café. As the pair sit face-to-face, the view alternates. We’re constantly placed behind the shoulder of Jesse or Celine, regularly flipping from one to the other. It’s as close as we can get to being there with them. You could be sat at another table in that café on your own, earwigging on their conversation.

Jesse and Celine are still incredibly likeable characters. Both are intelligent, and each has a new set of problems that they have developed in the last nine years. Celine is still neurotic, and both enjoy philosophising over where they are in life, how they got there and the impact they’ve had on each other. At one point, they suggest, “Maybe we’re just great at brief encounters wandering around European cities”. Well, evidently they are, but they are also so much more than that.

Clocking in at a short 80 minutes, the film is shot in real-time. You don’t miss a single moment of their relationship with each other that day. The fact that you are privy to pretty much every word spoken between the pair adds to the emotions you’re sure to feel at the end. The last 20 minutes of this film pack an emotional punch stronger than anything Before Sunrise could muster, which is saying something. I am not ashamed that this film came as close as any I can remember to challenging my record of never having cried at a movie. I had Goosebumps, I welled up and I had a lump in my throat. It’s moving stuff, though I did just about hold it together.

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Before Sunset achieves the impressive feat of being even better than it’s predecessor. Jesse and Celine’s dialogue is brilliant again; I could listen to them talk for much longer than this. The film is beautiful, displaying once again a great warmth for its characters, and this time an even greater respect for the viewer. It takes no time at all to re-invest emotionally in the superbly drawn leads, their story and their fate. This is, quite simply, brilliant film making on every level.

9/10

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2 Responses to “Before Sunset”

  1. At The Back July 14, 2013 at 21:52 #

    Well said Burns-o. Personally I felt more emotion in the first film and think it just edges this by a nat’s nose hair for me. This is a brilliant film though. I can’t wait for the third, although I’ve missed it at the cinema so will have some (not nine years) time to wait.

    If you like these movies by the way, you should check out the “2 Days…” films. I don’t think they’re quite in the same league but they’re funnier and very well written by Delpy.

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    […] This review will contain spoilers for Before Sunrise and Before Sunset – do not read on if you don’t want to know what happens up to this […]

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