BEFORE Sunset is Richard Linklater’s sequel to his acclaimed romantic film Before Sunrise (1995). Linklater is famous for his unique, independently-produced films like Daze and Confused. With Before Sunrise, he added a new dimension to the “brief encounter” romance.
The first film had young American Jesse (Ethan Hawke) going on a solo tour in Europe. While on a train to Vienna, he meets Celine, an attractive French also traveling alone. They only have a night to spend in Vienna and they decide to explore the city together, visiting the city’s sights while immersed in intelligent conversation.
So well-written is the film that viewers get to empathize with the two leads. Before Sunrise is among a handful of movies that present the contemporary youth as bright, articulate, mature and completely free of angst. Alas, the lovers have to go their separate ways by dawn, but the finale has them vowing to meet again in Vienna in 6 months.
Before Sunset gives us the opportunity to see what had happened since. The movie is set in the present day, almost 9 years after that brief encounter. Obviously, the two lovers never had that reunion. Jesse is now a famous writer and he’s pitching his new book in a Parisian book shop. Said book is based on his short-lived romance with Celine. Much to his surprise, Celine shows up. Both pick up from where they had left off in Vienna.
Still, Jesse needs to catch an evening flight to the States so they only have until late afternoon to catch up with each other. Jesse, we soon find out, is unhappily married, while Celine is unhappy about the fact that she could never seem to marry.
Like the first installment, Before Sunset is talky, but the dialog is consistently compelling. Viewers also get to join in on the reunion as the two leads walk through the beautiful streets of Paris. We get to learn more about them and discover how they’ve evolved. And like the first movie, there’s a deadline involved and the finale will perhaps have them arranging another reunion 6 months after. They’ll also probably stay together for good.
Before Sunset plays like the thinking man’s An Affair to Remember (1957). The lovers are a cut above the ordinary person. They’re both artists but they aren’t as romanticized and glamorized as Cary Grant or Deborah Kerr are in the old movie. Through their conversations, you get to learn how they get to cope on a day-to-day basis. You also learn they haven’t lost any affection for each other.
The two leads, along with Linklater, had co-written the script and much of the personal lives of Hawke and Delpy are revealed in the movie. It’s very intimate and personal and every one—from the audience to the two lovers—gets to connect. It’s rare for a movie to achieve a connection like this, especially if the romantic movie doesn’t have the frills that normally come with a romantic comedy. You don’t see the Eiffel Tower in this one, but you do get see and hear someone play the accordion.
Instead of having music by Louis Armstrong, Linklater aptly uses Nina Simone. He also uses the lovely music composed by his leading lady. Delpy at one point sings her own song, the moving “Waltz for a Night.” She deserves next year’s Oscar for Best Song.
Looking at Hawke and Delpy in Before Sunrise and Before Sunset gives one a chance to make a “before and after” comparison, or perhaps sing the song “Sunrise, Sunset”—is this the young couple who starred in? When did they get to grow so old?
Before Sunset was filmed 9 years after the original, but with the way these stars have aged, it seems like 20 years have passed since.
Nevertheless, this lack of glamour or vanity makes the characters more like real people and less like Hollywood icons. The chemistry between Hawke and Delpy is priceless and you could actually imagine them growing old together.