Before Sunset (2004)

Director:  Richard Linklater
Cast:  Ethan Hawke, & Julie Delpy
Plot:  It's nine years after Jesse and Celine first met; now, they encounter one another on the French leg of Jesse's book tour.

Genre:  Drama / Romance
Awards:  Nom. for Golden Bear (Berlin).  Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Adapted Screenplay
Runtime:  80min
Rating:  NC16 language and sexual references.

As online film critic James Berardinelli puts it, Before Sunset is “one of those exceedingly rare instances in which the motivation for a sequel is creative, not financial.”  There, he summarizes in a single, meaningful statement the value this Richard Linklater film has for viewers sophisticated enough to appreciate the artistry of its concept. 

The sequel to the critically acclaimed Before Sunrise (1995), the aptly-titled Before Sunset may not have the allure and magic of the first film, but it still manages to be fresh in its own unique way.

In Before Sunset, the characters Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) meet by chance at a Paris bookstore where the former is holding a book-signing session with the press.  They take a spontaneous walk down the streets of Paris, enjoy coffee at a cafĂ©, and take a boat ride before Jesse has to take a flight back home. 

Unlike in the first film where they spent an entire day and night together, both characters have only now about an hour or so to interact and catch up after nine whole years not knowing whether they would meet again.

Before Sunset’s story unfolds in real-time. The film’s runtime is literally the amount of time that they have together.  With the beautiful, and at times, historical backdrop of Paris in the background, we follow the two characters in a number of long takes as we are brought up to speed on the major events that have occurred in their lives for the last decade. 

While Jesse looks scruffier and Celine more aged, their chemistry with each other remains undeniably strong, though this is characterized by natural awkwardness in the first half-hour.

As shown from their screenwriting credit, Hawke and Delpy worked very closely with Linklater on the crafting of their characters and dialogue. Their naturalistic acting, punctuated by moments of improvisation, give the film a-slice-of-reality feeling that remains true to the essence of the director’s conceptual vision. 

Youthful, starry-eyed love as explored in the first film now makes way for themes about responsibility, commitment, marriage, and regrets.  In a way, Before Sunset is more pessimistic in outlook, not only seen through the world-weary eyes of its two leads, but its constraint of time also limits the possibility of a second chance at love with “the one that got away”.

There is a quite potent scene in a car that sees Celine angrily airing her grievances at Jesse, who appears taken aback by her uncharacteristic behavior.  It shows that while innately we stay roughly the same, we do change with time, often with a more mature if cynical lens to view things. 

Shot at a leisurely pace, Before Sunset is a remarkable document of two highly identifiable characters at the crossroads of their lives, pondering what could have been if circumstances had unfolded differently for them.

If Linklater considers to do another sequel in the next couple of years, it would be more welcomed than not.  Otherwise, this two-part filmed romance is enough food for thought for a good night’s contemplation of the meaning of love, and all the complexities and subtleties that come with it.


*Last viewing - Apr '17
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