“Think of it like
this. Jump ahead ten, twenty years. And you’re married. Your marriage
just doesn’t have that same energy anymore. You start to blame your
husband. You start to think of all the guys you’ve met and all the ones
you’ve never pursued and how things might have been different if you’d just
picked up with one of them. Well, I’m one of those guys. That’s me.”
With that smooth line of
reasoning, a handsome American back-packer named Jesse talked a beautiful
French student named Celine into getting off the train with him in Vienna.
He had to catch a plane for the US at nine the next morning, so they end up
spending the night walking around the city, talking about life and feelings
and falling in love.
This was nine years ago, and
the movie was Before Sunrise. The film is still one of my
favorite films. It was critically acclaimed, though no real box office
powerhouse. Still, the cult fans of the movie were passionate about
it. At the end of Before Sunrise, Celine and Jesse agree to
meet each other in Vienna in six months. Fans of the movie figured
they would never know if the couple ever connected.
Thankfully, we finally get
to find out. Now we jump ahead nine years. Before Sunset
is a sequel which picks up the story in the current day. It turns out
the couple never did have that meeting. (I hope it isn't giving away
too much to tell that one of them showed up, and one didn't.) Time has
passed and Jesse has gotten married and become a somewhat successful
novelist. But they never forgot each other. He has written a
book based on the couple's night together. In Paris on a book tour,
Celine comes to see him speak. Afterwards, he has to catch a plane in
two hours. They walk together and talk, trying to decide if what they
had on that day long ago was just an illusion, or if the other was the one
that got away in their life.
That is pretty much it as
far as the plot goes, and yet this movie is much more interesting than any
of the high concept action films that have been littering the multiplexes
this summer. Because Before Sunset is actually about something
that matters. It is about life and missed opportunities and second
chances. It may not have any violence, and any sex is just discussed,
but it is still a stunning piece of filmmaking.
In fact, hard as it is to
believe, Before Sunset is an even better film than its predecessor.
The film has more experience, more gravity and more realism. In fact,
there is a better movie made this year, I will be shocked.
A nice touch, one that is true to life but not
necessarily to sequels, is that the main characters have changed.
Jesse and Celine have been molded by the experiences of the past decade.
In Vienna, they were relatively carefree, somewhat romantic (or naive) and
life was full of possibilities.
While they are now only
thirty-two, not old by any stretch of the imagination, they have become
hardened. They realize that they have certain responsibilities,
certain limitations in life that they never expected.
The renewal of their
relationship comes about in a wonderfully natural way. At first the
conversation is a little awkward. However, as they get more
comfortable, the conversation becomes astonishingly spontaneous. Then it
becomes confessional. Finally raw emotions start to surface.
Jesse married his college
sweetheart just because he got her pregnant. They did it because it
was the expected thing to do. Now he loves his son but barely knows
his wife. They really have nothing in common other than child-rearing.
In fact, he describes his relationship with her as running a day-care
facility with an old girlfriend. He tells Celine that the time leading
up to his marriage, he was thinking of her, not his wife. In fact, one
time right before the wedding, he thought that he may have seen Celine going
into a deli on 13th and Broadway in New York. It turns out that at the
time she lived only two blocks away, so maybe he did.
Celine is working as an
activist, helping the poor and the disenfranchised. She feels
powerless, though, like she is going through the motions and not really
helping. She has had a series of bad relationships, but it seems she
has always kept men somewhat at arms length. It also seems that she
has, for better or worse, always held her memory of Vienna as a ruler for
men to measure up to. Needless to say, no one has come close, so she
has eventually shut herself off from the possibility of true love.
Even assumptions that the
audience made about the night in Vienna are turned on their heads. For
example, I've gone nine years believing that the two did not have sex on
that magic night, but in the new film it turns out that they apparently did.
(I say apparently, because through the fuzz of years of memory and
romanticism, he insists they did and she at first denies it, then
acknowledges he may be right.)
All of this is done against
the clock. Always just slightly out of the picture is the driver whose
job get Jesse to the airport... essentially separate them yet again.
Hawke and Delpy are
spectacularly natural in these roles. Not one moment feels staged or
acted, which is quite amazing when you consider that most of this film is
done in long takes on the streets of Paris. It's hard enough to pull
off a character with lots of quick cuts. This kind of sustained
quality is a small miracle. Delpy is also a surprisingly good singer,
doing one song on camera and two others in the film soundtrack.
There are many quick
character moments, like one scene towards the end when Hawke is telling some
particularly personal information in the back of the limo and Delpy reaches
out to touch him, but pulls back at the last moment. Because of this
type of intimacy, at the end of the film, you truly feel that you have
gotten to know these two people, and you desperately care what will happen
In the end, the film closes
on a somewhat ambiguous note, just as the first one did. However,
there is good reason to believe that the future looks brighter for the two.
I just hope we don't have to wait another nine years to find out.