Before Sunset

In 1994, Richard Linklater made Before Sunrise, the story-if you can call it that-of a young American man who meets a French girl while touring the continent on one of those Eurail passes. They decide to get off in Vienna to get better acquainted during the 24 hours he has until his plane leaves. We watch them gab as they prowl the ancient streets and haunt the cafes, exploring the world of ideas, that as college students, they’re just discovering.

Before Sunset is a sequel. The American, Jesse Walter, played by Ethan Hawke, returns to Europe nine years later. He’s married with a son and a new novel based on his previous experiences. His Frenchwoman, named Celine and played by Julie Delphy, shows up at a book signing. He only has a few hours before his flight and he decides to spend them with her. So once again they walk along the avenues of the old world, talking about the perspective that nine years of adult life has brought to their personalities.

Linklater seems to love this kind of thing. I’m not completely familier with his work, but I gather that a lot of his films are like this, containing heavy dialog delivered by young people, struggling with old ideas that are new to them. This guy must have really loved the late night bull sessions in college.

He at least knows enough to keep the movie short, as this sort of thing can only hold interest for a limited amount of time, not much more than an hour and a half. And it is shot against the scenery of western Europe, so if you’re not interested in what’s being said, you can at least enjoy the view.

Hawke and Delphy instantly regain the chemistry they had in the earlier movie. He’s a new author, uncomfortable with the more commercial aspects of the publishing business. She’s still an idealistic girl, working for an environmental NCO. The script, built by improvisation by the actors and the director, bounces from deep seeming speculations to everyday descriptions of their lives. The transitions are smooth. Of course, it is one long conversation, so nothing builds and there’s no suspense. The ending is left ambiguous.

I wonder if it was the plan ten years ago to make this sequel, and if maybe they’ll make another one ten years from now. I hope so. The success of something like this depends on how you feel about the characters. And I found myself liking them despite the fact that they’re both kind of downers.


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February 2005
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