Romantic Sequel to Before Sunrise Is Lyrical and Literate

Monday Magazine | July 22, 2004
She has no conversation,” complains a character in Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband, but it’s not a criticism that could ever be levelled at either of the protagonists of Before Sunset, the sequel to a talky yet engaging 1995 film that became a surprise hit. We first saw Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) nine years ago in Before Sunrise, which chronicled the hyper-romantic encounter between two young people who meet on a train and have one night together in Vienna, pouring out their hearts to each other in a cascade of idealistic philosophizing, soul-bearing ... and ardent physical attraction that literally climaxes in a park at sunrise.

Sunset opens in Paris at the renowned bookshop Shakespeare and Company, and Jesse, now a modestly famous American novelist (as is Hawke himself), is promoting a not-so-fictional account of his one-night romance with the woman who got away. As he’s fending off a reporter’s question about whether the character is based on reality he spots Celine standing shyly in the stacks. With only two hours before a chauffeur is supposed to whisk him to the airport for a return flight to New York City, a time-squeezed Jesse and Celine resume their conversation—their relationship—as they go strolling in search of a coffee. Haltingly at first and then in an increasing torrent of thoughts, emotions, and memories, the two reconnect. By turns flirtatious, amusing, articulate and passionate, these two would-be soulmates concoct engaging flights of conversational fancy as the camera follows them along the winding, sun-kissed streets and garden paths of Paris.

Celine, deeply concerned about the state of the world, has channeled her idealism into her job with an environmental group—“putting her passion into action,” as Jesse says admiringly. And as these two wonder how much they’ve changed or maybe stayed the same, they discuss the significance of memories. From spirituality the conversation boldly shifts to sex, and both become embarrassed at the unexpected intimacy. Gradually, we learn that Celine has been less than successful at romance. It seems that one of the best things about her current squeeze, a photojournalist who specializes in war zones, is that he’s usually away on a posting: she’s happier missing and admiring him from afar rather than being oppressed by his reality in her apartment.

For his part, Jesse is married and has a four-year-old son, yet feels less like a lover than a partner helping run a daycare. Of course the two speculate about whether they would have made a successful couple or ended up hating each other. And by the time Jesse and Celine have taken a brief boat ride and been picked up by Jesse’s chauffeur, the romantic tension has become as yeastily appetizing as a Parisian baguette slathered in butter and brie.

Kind of like a cross between Brief Encounter and My Dinner with Andre, this literate and loquacious film is never less than charming. The ever-varying Paris backdrop is an atmospheric setting for these ardent talkers, whose conversation ebbs and flows like music. There are a few brief flashbacks from the original film—just enough for the audience to see how youthful Celine and Jesse were, and to serve as a sharp reminder that time is forever rushing along, regardless of whether you seize the day or acquiesce to compromises. Less intellectually dense than director Richard Linklater’s Waking Life (which may be a good thing), Sunset combines the voyeurism of reality TV with intellectual content worthy of graduates of the Sorbonne. At a time when movie sequels invariably signal bigger explosions and longer chase scenes, how refreshing to see a dialogue-driven film where all the excitement comes from rich emotions and ideas fashioned into well-crafted turns of phrase.

Rating: ***1/2

(Before Sunset continues at the Odeon)

Monday Magazine

Founded in 1975 to provide a critical voice in Victoria's political and cultural communities, Monday Magazine continues to shake British Columbia's conservative capital city with tell-it- like-it-is features and reviews. Targeting educated, active adults and Victoria's growing youth market, Monday...
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