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Countries: USA, FranceLanguages: English, FrenchBudget: $2,700,000 (estimated)
Before Sunset Reviews
On July 2, 2004, after a premiere at the Berlin International Film Fest months earlier, Warner Bros. brought Before Sunset to the U.S. for its theatrical release. The film went on to be nominated for an adapted screenplay Oscar at the 77th Academy Awards. The Hollywood Reporter's original review is below.
The two characters in Before Sunset embrace only once and spend the entire time talking to each other. Yet this is one of the most wildly romantic movies in ages.
That's not the only thing wild about it. This film, made by three people — director Richard Linklater and its two stars, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy — is a hugely successful experiment to see if a movie can captivate an audience with a conversation between two people in real time. My Dinner With Andre accomplished this feat for intellectual art house types. Before Sunset does it for everyone else.
This will be one of the first films, if not the first, released by Warner Bros.' new specialty label. Reportedly, Warner Independent Pictures will open the film in June, but what a pity to miss Valentine's Day, for this is a great date movie.
Before Sunset is a sequel to Linklater's Before Sunrise, a romantic drama that won a best director Silver Bear at the 1995 Berlinale. Nine years have past since the young American Jesse (Hawke) and the French student Celine (Delpy) spent 14 crazy, impetuous hours together in Vienna, a one-night stand that they promised each other would continue six months later back in Vienna. Did they keep that rendezvous? The new script by Linklater and his actors delivers a depressing answer: No, they did not.
But nine years later, Jesse has written a book about that one night he never forgot. Celine shows up at Paris' most famous English-language bookstore, Shakespeare and Co., for his book signing. He has a plane to catch for New York in a few hours. That leaves just enough time to grab a coffee, stroll through narrow Left Bank streets, board a boat on the Seine and get to Jesse's car for the ride to the airport. Say about 75 minutes.
As the camera strolls along with the couple, their conversation establishes why they failed to meet, how well they get along nearly a decade later, what each thinks about the state of the world, how their love lives are going and, finally, whether that one-night stand will always be just that.
Few American films have the courage to rely entirely on dialogue and subtext for story. These filmmakers make certain they have nothing else to fall back upon.
To be sure, the two actors are pleasing to watch; indeed, a brief flashback to the first movie establishes they may be better looking now than then. And Delpy does sing a song she wrote late in the film. Otherwise, it's just two people chatting merrily away, asking questions and searching replies for clues as to where they now stand as a couple.
There are unexpected revelations. Both lived in New York at the same time and did their own version of Sleepless in Seattle but never encountering the other. (Tantalizingly, Jesse once thought he saw Celine and is further crushed to realize he just might have.) Jesse also has a wife and son, while Celine has a boyfriend she likes. Now where does that leave them as a couple? While it is clear they are as easy with each other as ever, it is not at all clear this won't be just another chance encounter.
The trio has made a wise film about how age works on people. Life has taught each a few things in the intervening years, so they look at people and options in a different light. That's why Jesse wrote a book and Celine a song about their one night together. It was more of a rare thing than either of them had realized.
Shot in just 15 days on a tight budget, Before Sunset is an accomplished bit of guerrilla filmmaking. Cinematographer Lee Daniel's long camera takes are smooth and unobtrusive, the actors appear relaxed, and the chemistry between them is excellent. Even Delpy's songs are not bad at all. — Kirk Honeycutt, originally published on Feb. 11, 2004
The best sequels aren't encores so much as continuations, extending and deepening a story—or, better still, evoking memories of the original in a meaningful way. Even so, the idea of a follow-up to Richard Linklater's bracingly romantic 1995 all-nighter Before Sunrise seems like a terrible miscalculation: Why spoil the bittersweet ambiguity of what happens after the two lovers part ways at a Vienna train station, hastily promising to meet again six months later? And yet nine years later, as the opening shots linger in anticipation of their Paris reunion in Before Sunset, it's hard to keep from welling up. The sensation is like skipping from the first act in Jacques Demy's The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg, where lovers also part at a station, to the final scene, when they've long since moved on with their lives but experience that fresh rush of emotion all over again. Little beyond a few pleasantries are exchanged between them, but the audience can safely guess that if they said what they were thinking, they'd both confess that neither has felt love as strongly since.
The ideal way for people to see Before Sunset is to have seen the earlier film on opening day and not revisited it since, so the original rendezvous syncs up perfectly with the faded (though still vivid) imprint of the characters' memories. In Paris to promote a teasingly autobiographical novel about the affair, American author Ethan Hawke serendipitously ends a European book-signing tour at his former lover Julie Delpy's favorite bookstore. In the hour or so before Hawke has to catch a plane back to the U.S., the two resume the impassioned and literate conversation they began nine years earlier. The more time they spend together, the more intimate the discussion gets, including some heartbreaking revelations about why they didn't reunite and how they really feel about each other.
When Hawke first beckoned Delpy off the train in Before Sunrise, he lured her with a half-sincere, half-smoke-and-mirrors speech about how she should take a chance or else feel some doubt in her romantic future. Though it seemed like a harmless come-on at the time, those words carry an achingly ironic resonance in Before Sunset, when the renewed pleasure they take in each other's company only deepens their regret about where life has steered them. Shooting in long takes, Linklater and his actors (who get co-screenwriting credit) allow the conversation to curlicue effortlessly from literate banter to matters of the heart, and sometimes to places in between. And, in the spirit of the original, Linklater closes with one of the best endings of its kind since George Romero's Martin.
The difference between a caprice and a lifelong passion, said Oscar Wilde, is that a caprice lasts longer. Richard Linklater's 1995 movie Before Sunrise was all about a caprice. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy were Jesse and Céline, two good-looking twentysomethings who met on a train and spent the day together in Vienna on a whim that turned into a miraculous romantic adventure. But the lovers didn't want their passion to peter out banally so they never exchanged numbers (no email addresses in those days), agreeing simply to rendezvous in six months' time; we left them brooding separately on this promise as the credits rolled.
Did they meet again? This charming and affecting sequel, reuniting the characters after nine years, gives us the answer. Jesse is now a famous writer visiting Paris to read from his bestselling novel based on their night of love, and Céline is in the audience. Old feelings are renewed and old wounds obscurely reopened. In each other's eyes there is delight and shock: they can see what we can see, having ourselves got older with Hawke and Delpy in real time.
Jesse is in fact harder, leaner, warier. The goatee has survived but the puppyish plumpness of his face has been replaced by chiselled planes. The leather jacket and jeans are gone; now it's a sharp suit and open-necked shirt. Céline makes plenty of jokes about being fatter in those days but in fact she has changed much less, affecting the same studenty clothes. Jesse is a careerist writer with a stagnant marriage, an adored son and a vestigial cynicism about the world. Céline is a fiercely committed environmental campaigner. They have coffee and talk and laugh; she teases him about being typically American, and he calls her a Commie and a Frenchie - though oddly 9/11 and related issues don't feature in the conversation, despite their both having lived in New York. It is perfectly clear that they are still very deeply in love.
Before Sunset retains most of what was engaging about the first movie: it has its gentleness, its romanticism and, most importantly, its idealism. What it has lost is the sense of mystery. The first film showed them carving out their own private arena of intimacy, briefly sidestepping the cause-and-effect world of their lives. Linklater's animated fantasy Waking Life three years ago in fact returned them to this atemporal bubble for a short, single scene in bed. But bringing them back to the here-and-now, and thus solving the mystery of their possible reunion, denudes their relationship of some of its poetry. In 1995 they met weird Linklaterish types all over the place, full of portents and auguries. Now, in the illusionless present, no prophets are necessary.
Jesse sheepishly admits he wrote his book so that he could meet Céline again in just this way, and Linklater's movie has shrewd and interesting things to say about the secret life of the young male writer. How many autobiographical novels, or for that matter thrusting male careers of the non-literary kind, have the same genesis as Jesse's - an agonised need to conquer the past, to un-break the heart, to either win back a lost love or, failing that, become so famous and successful that you don't care? When Jesse confesses that it is only his all-consuming love for his son that keeps him in the marriage, it reminded me of a theory a friend once told me: all men have had their hearts broken at some stage between 16 and 23 and never experience the same intensity of love again - until they have their first child.
So much for Jesse. Céline seems on the surface happier: she has made no irreversibly bad life-choices, but she has a pseudo-relationship, a non-relationship with a photojournalist who's always abroad. In the meanwhile her life is ticking away and she has developed a sweet, if faintly absurd interest in playing the guitar and composing songs about her cat, like Phoebe in Friends. They are both in a bad way, and both thrilled and horrified to realise that nothing in their adult lives has matched that great night of love.
It's a very talky film, with lots of unbroken travelling takes as Jesse and Céline meander through the parks and thoroughfares of Paris, generating funny, funky dialogue, which Delpy, Hawke and Linklater have co-written. Their great debate remains the same. Would they have killed their love by staying together? Was their separation an act of existential heroism? Or were they criminally stupid and arrogant to have chanced upon such a precious jewel and then thrown it away?
Jesse and Céline don't even kiss - though both movies are an amplification of the moment when Woody Allen kissed Diane Keaton at the beginning of their date, and not the end; so they could relax and enjoy the evening. If only the iron laws of romance, conversation, life and time could be messed with as easily as that! Well, Richard Linklater has messed with them, and given us two smart and tender films in the process. Perhaps they can be shown as a double-bill (both are quite short) or Before Sunrise can be re-issued on video and DVD pronto so people can catch up before watching this sequel. It's the date movie of the summer.
It looks like a walk in the park – and a coffee stop, and a float down the Seine – but Linklater’s magic-hour impromptu lights up passions and possibilities most films don’t dream of. A more seasoned follow-up to ‘Before Sunrise’, in which Ethan Hawke’s rambling young American and Julie Delpy’s French student waxed romantic over one charmed night in Vienna, it’s some companion piece: a modest resumption of a love story whose pristine naturalism is never breached by its concurrent self-reflexiveness as a fiction and sequel. The couple themselves remain as self-conscious as they are direct, aware that this reunion is both a reprise and a new chapter, a turn full-circle and another waypoint down the line; they speculate on dreams, make-believe, and the idea of being characters in someone’s else’s scheme – suggesting fiction as a metaphor for fate.
Chinese boxes-style, they’ve even translated their memories of Vienna into their own art: he a book, she a song… It’s at his final reading in Paris that they meet again (did he ever meet the girl again, one of his audience asks? The answer depends on whether you’re a romantic or a cynic, he tells her), and they step out for a coffee in his window before he catches a flight home. ‘I think I might have written that entire book just to find you again,’ he tells her, as their preliminaries give way to heartier expressions of remorse and frustration: the cynic in Linklater (and Hawke and Delpy, who co-wrote) has been at work in the intervening years, buffeting their idealism and queering the reality of that night of lost magic. The film picks up momentum with them – Linklater still does the connections and evasions of dialogue like no one but Rohmer – before delightfully slipping a gear for a sublimely wound-down ending. At the risk of overhyping 80 minutes of intimate real-time, this is the soul of generosity, a beautifully vibrant and big-spirited film.