BEFORE SUNSET picks up 9 years after BEFORE SUNRISE, where we meet Jesse (Ethan Hawke) now in his early 30’s, at the end of a book tour. He’s in Paris, and his book is a fictional account of the night he spent with Celine (Julie Delpy). As Jesse is finishing off his talk, he looks through the side window, and Celine is standing there waiting for him. This scenario may not have been what we all thought would be the future for these two characters, but it is extremely fitting. Before we even realise it, we are transported back into the company of these two characters we fell in love with, and as they meet once again the excitement of what happened hits.
The moment their eyes meet after 9 years, we know this is the first time they have seen each other since that morning on the train platform. They didn’t meet in 6 months as they had wanted, they don’t need to tell us this because their eyes speak this story. Of course once they meet and greet each other (awkwardly for a moment), they pick up as if time had not passed, and they naturally find out what happened to each other. These early moments in the film are shot so beautifully and seamlessly, the shots are long as they walk the streets in Paris and talk. Years may have passed, but that connection they made is clearly still there, and that night has lingered with them ever since (evident because Jesse wrote the book).
While things may seem the same they are also quite different, they are in their early thirties, they’ve grown up. Are they married? Do they have children? How much did that night shape them? Questions that we the audience ask along with Jesse and Celine as these things come up. The attraction between the pair hasn’t left, and before long it is as if they are old friends. Their conversations are that of older people, but still as meaningful as they were in the beginning. The time they have together on this day is a lot less, as Jesse has a flight back to New York that evening, and at first it seems as though they may make the most of it, but as the afternoon progresses we can feel they don’t want to leave each other and we don’t want them to.
It feels that this time around these two have so much more to win and lose with this encounter, and regret is such a big theme here. They remember their night together and ponder the ‘what if’ they actually did meet again six months later. The life that could have been is something that haunts them whether they like it or not, and do they take that plunge to make up for that? There is so much that feels so real here, their feelings and especially where they are at with their life is something that everyone can relate to. The raw emotions they show us, hit extremely hard, and while they might be wondering about life, we do as well. Stakes seem higher in some way, especially as their time together seems to run out, they know what they want and we are left watching and wondering whether they actually go for it.
This is a truly beautiful film on every level, it’s again amazing to look at, and the shooting style with the one shot takes of our pair walking is such a great achievement. It is a very bright film, the soft side of Paris is really shown and it suits the small adventure these two are embarking on. The script is such a strong piece, it was written by the stars and it is so apparent these two wrote from the heart and their own experiences. Ethan Hawke injects so much into Jesse, just as Julie Delpy injects herself into Celine. The performances here are about as perfect as they come, each moment is felt in every possible way. They make sure we are there with them, walking the streets of Paris and feeling those emotions. Just as these two actors have a strong bond and connection, they form this with the audience once again. It isn’t the same as it was before, it’s different and it’s just as strong.
BEFORE SUNSET doesn’t have as long of a running time, and it just flies by because it is such an engaging film. Richard Linklater has worked his magic here again, crafting a true piece of cinematic art. The film is exciting and hard hitting, some may find that hard to imagine with a film that focuses on two people walking around and talking. The simplest things in life can be the most beautiful, and this is what this film is. It speaks volumes to the talented of those involved to make this sequel and it not only matches the original, it brings in a fresh take and makes us fall in love once more.