Directed by: Richard Linklater
Written by: Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke
Starring: Julie Delpy & Ethan Hawke
Nine years encompasses a large swath of our lives, especially when in our 20s. The life I will be living nine years from the writing of this review will encompass a different setting and family configuration. It makes for thousands of days, which separates the last time Jesse and Céline have seen each other in Vienna. Their reunification brings forth feelings left in the Austrian capital and changes their future.
In Paris for a reading of his book, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) sees Céline (Julie Delpy) enter the bookstore. They strike up another long conversation, but with a similar constraint of time, as he needs to catch a plane to get home as his book tour concludes in Europe.
Just like the narrative, Before Sunset was released nine years after Before Sunrise and finds these characters in another major European city. Using a similar style, but with much deeper and mature conversations, this film solidifies itself in being probably the best sequel ever made. It’s similarities to its predecessors are obvious, but it maintains its freshness because the actors have aged just as much as their characters, and through their performances, they embody that maturity.
Before Sunset needs to pick up the pieces of what occurred in Before Sunrise where Céline and Jesse departed without exchanging numbers. They promised to meet each other in the same location, which did not happen as they tempted fate. In their youthful optimism, they felt that timing the magic that led to their beautiful night in Vienna could occur again. Sadly, it did not happen, and having not exchanged phone numbers, there was a great chance they would never see each other again. That’s what allows the nine years to pass with no contact, but plenty of emotional energy spent yearning for each other despite having to move on with life.
Jesse wrote an adored novel about the experience of their night at Vienna and Céline became a strong environmental activist. They both happen to be in a relationship, with Jesse being married with a kid back in the United States. The happenstance of them seeing each other again presents an opportunity to pick back up where they left off in Vienna through very different circumstances. They have until his flight leaves in a couple of hours to catch up nearly a decade of life that has transpired without seeing each other.
These two have changed in the last nine years as anyone would from their 20s to their 30s. They have different career goals, life aspirations, and have experienced such different lives since they last saw each other. Even with all of it, they still have that magic that carried them through Vienna and brought them back together in Paris. Their promenade takes them all throughout the french capital from the cafes to water taxis as the time ticks on this experience with one another. Something that could simply be a quick conversation, continues to expand because the love they had for each other never really dissipated as shown through Jesse’s book and Céline’s songs. This conversation becomes more than two individuals that spend a night together years ago, but two folks constantly tempting fate. It raises the urgency of each sentence and continues to make Jesse push back how late he plans to arrive at the airport.
The backdrop of Paris looks stunning as it captures them talking through a beautifully sunny day in the city. The cinematography ensures to capture that. The moments of them being static allows for the conversation to gravitate over the beautiful city that surrounds them, especially in the scene in the water taxi. It’s shown in the poster and looks tremendous. This sense of urgency gets felt and their use of transportation shows they have places to go in the limited time they have together. The different modes of transportation also force them to be further and closer apart depending on the vehicle. Céline and Jesse have less time than before with so much they have wanted to say to the other.
So much is said through their words, but also their body language says even more from the near-touches to the looks given when the other looks away. Plenty remains unsaid and all they want to do is explode with their actual desires as they fight off the weight of responsibility that binds them to their current lives. They have those “what if” conversations of the possibility of everything lining up and they met when they stated they would be back in Vienna. How different life could have been and if happiness would have followed. They could easily have inflated the meaning of their previous meeting but with each revelation they espouse to one another, it solidifies what makes their connection something undeniably special.
Creating this sequel had the leads, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy help co-write the screenplay with director Richard Linklater. It makes complete sense seeing as they know these characters as much as Linklater does. It shows how much they have grown in the nine years as actors and how they integrate that into the development of Céline and Jesse. Delpy, in particular, really took the spotlight in this installment. She makes Céline an undeniably terrific character, who has her own issues and insecurities that she fights off. Whether it be from her tremendous entrance or the beautifully enchanting song she sings, she fully embodies Céline and in the process creates one of my favorite fictional characters.
The ending of this film may be the greatest ever constructed from their conversation and how Céline operates in her comfortable state. A pressure that has been mounting for years and when she sings “A Waltz for a Night,” it says everything about how she feels in regard to what has transpired in the last nine years. The perfect culmination that concludes a flawless sequel. The song threads to two films together and the certain placement and emphasis on a particular word, beautifully calls back to a certain poet in the first film.
I cannot imagine the difficulty in attempting to create Before Sunset, as it tries to pick up the momentum of a film narratively and in reality nine years later. It takes a collaboration for the ages, which happened with Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, and Richard Linklater. With their understanding of these characters and the philosophical makeup, they create what may be the greatest sequel ever made.