Before Sunset (2004) / Drama-Romance

MPAA Rated: R for language and sexual references
Running Time: 80 min.

Cast: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy
Director: Richard Linklater

Screenplay: Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy
Review published October 1, 2004

Sequels are usually the domain of big money-making blockbusters that fall under almost every genre except for dramas, which makes Before Sunset a very unique experience indeed.  Imagine if we could catch up to the characters of many such films almost a decade later to see what happened afterward, and find out if that fairy tale ending meant that they lived happily ever after, or perhaps it was just a passing fancy that couldn't sustain the romance but for the moment.

Before Sunset's predecessor, Before Sunrise, received little accolades, but has carried a fervent following of fans that thought it was a small and magical tale, and one of the decade's best romances (I'm one of those fans -- It currently sits in my Top 10 films for 1995).  It carries a mystique because we never really know if the two lovers of the film were ever to meet again, and if so, whether they were able to make their romance last.  Writer-director Richard Linklater (The School of Rock) attempts to play with fire by giving us the answer in this sequel, and with everyone who saw and enjoyed the first film forming their own imaginary conclusions, the answer would seem bound to disappoint.

Nine years after meeting Celine (Delpy, Three Colors: White), Jesse (Hawke, Training Day) is a best-selling author, whose latest novel is a fictional account of that night in Vienna where the two fell for each other.  Jesse is in Paris promoting his book in a local shop, where Celine has stopped in for a visit.  The two catch up on old times, what happened since they parted ways, and their remembrances and perceptions of the night they shared, and how it has stayed with them ever since.

As much as I didn't really want to see a sequel to Before Sunrise, credit Linklater, Delpy and Hawke for not only throwing up a different conclusion than most would have imagined, but also for making one more realistic and satisfying.  Just as we hadn't wanted their romance to end nine years ago, neither do the characters in the film, as they contrive ways where they can stay together every moment they can before they Jesse must board his plane back home.  Just like the first film, Before Sunset is driven by its dialogue and locales, and for those with little tolerance for films that don't showcase a chase scene or an explosion at five minute intervals, you may find it talky and inconsequential, but at least it's only 80 minutes in length.  However, for the truly romantic at heart, the short length of the film just doesn't seem long enough, as we too want to keep following these two very fleshed-out characters and eavesdrop on their conversation all day.

Hawke and Delpy are phenomenal in their roles, feeling every bit like two friends who haven't seen each other in years, awkwardly trying to get into the rhythm they remembered, but both maturing far beyond the people they once were when they were younger.  There is a naturalistic element to their conversation, which is greatly assisted by both actors contributing personal anecdotal material to their characters that seems real -- because it is.

You don't need to see Before Sunrise to enjoy Before Sunset, but by doing so, you'll not only be depriving yourself of one of the better romances in the last 10 years, but also a depth and richness in the nostalgic elements that permeate this sequel. Hit the local rental store before making the attempt.  Without spoiling it, the genuinely affecting ending of Before Sunset, like its predecessor, leaves the door open for a future encounter for Celine and Jesse.  No one needed a sequel to Before Sunrise, but now that we have one, another isn't just expected, it's demanded.

-- Followed by Before Midnight.

Qwipster's rating:

2004 Vince Leo