It's taken me a while to catch up with the review of Before Sunset which we screened more than a week ago as part of our "Love Is In The Air" mini-season. Richard Linklater has crafted a beautifully observed, charming and intelligent film. But much credit must also go to its two stars – Ethan Hawke (Jesse) and Julie Delpy (Céline) – not only for their subtle acting but also for their contribution to the realisation of the script. The storyline is well known. In Linklater's earlier film, Before Sunrise, the two lovers met briefly and capriciously in Vienna nine years ago. They agreed to rendezvous in six months' time in a promise of undying celebration of what they had discovered of each other. In the new film, we learn that they never made it, that circumstances got in the way, and that a great love was perhaps forever abandoned. Or is it?
Before Sunset traces the rediscovery of love in a different key. Obviously both characters are older and have experienced life's vicissitudes. Jesse is a famous writer on a book promotion tour, locked into an unhappy marriage but with a deeply-loved son, and an attitude of weary cynicism toward the world. Céline has kept much of her youthful idealism and works as an environmental campaigner but also suffers a (pseudo)relationship with an often absent boyfriend. Both have much more of life's experiences under their belts but these have also been lives of pain and disappointment. Jesse admits that he has written his autobiographical novel of the earlier encounter precisely in the hope of seeing Céline and perhaps of un-breaking his heart. The new story – shot entirely in real time and carried only by the intense conversation, laughter, gestures and silences of the couple as they meander through the streets of Paris – is a journey toward a single realisation: that in their adult lives they have never experienced anything like that single night of passion long ago. It is hard to say whether this knowledge thrills or horrifies them. But the journey's the thing: a very human effort at transcending that moment from the past.
Hawke and Delpy play out their rediscovery beautifully. Before Sunset is a daring piece of filmmaking but there is no artifice, no recourse to the usual romantic tricks. It is a study in the art of intelligent conversation and the slow stripping away of aching truths. More than anything it is a dialogue about everything that matters: work, romantic love, sex, memory, commitment, compromise, anger, disappointment and, of course, the passage of time. By the end, they have learned to walk by each other's side; neither is leading or following. Jesse deliberately misses his plane home. We can only guess at what happens next. We'll have to wait for another sequel to find out ... perhaps in another ten years or so.
When my friend, Wan, recommended that we screen Before Sunset he said that its themes reminded him of me. I'll leave that to another to decide.
Footnote: I don't care much for either the razzmatazz or conservatism of the Oscars. But Julie Delpy should have been a contender .... In any case, as Richard Linklater has said, Before Sunset is a kind of "anti-Hollywood romance".