Nine years ago, an American named Jesse (Ethan Hawke) met a French woman named Celine (Julie Delpy) on a European train. He convinced her to spend one day with him seeing the sights, and the two formed an unmistakable bond, which led to lovemaking and promises to meet in Vienna in six months. Nine years later, Jesse is in Paris promoting the book he wrote about the night with Celine, and is shocked to see her standing in the shadows as he tries to explain his feelings about the event to the local press. Jubilant to see his old love again, Jesse spends the next 70 minutes (until he has to board his plane home) catching up with Celine and exploring their feelings for one another.
Like any good sequel, Richard Linklater's "Before Sunset" (IMDb listing) picks up in spirit right away from his 1995 film, "Before Sunrise." Both films are true dialog decathlons, with the two actors, Hawke and Delpy, spitting out mountains of conversation as they stroll around Europe and flirt endlessly. That alone is impressive (the film is tightly scripted, which is shocking to learn). But even more pleasing is Linklater's desire to strip away romantic movie conventions, and show the true genesis of attraction, and the leg work it takes to convey that to the opposite sex, regardless of whether the feelings are mutual.
"Before Sunset" isn't just a simple rehash of the first film. Linklater and his two screenwriting stars take the opportunity of reunion and the distance of time passed to investigate subjects that would honestly occupy the reunited couple, such as changes in appearance, current relationships, and political and occupational updates. Both Hawke and Delpy are incredible in their roles, effortlessly picking up the rhythm from nine years earlier, and flowing off each other like a married couple. Their chemistry is crucial to Linklater's vision, and the actors don't disappoint in their long overdue return to the screen (minus a short cameo in the director's 2001 animated feature, "Waking Life").
With such a short time to explore nine years of history (the film runs 70 minutes, and is shot in real time), Hawke and Delpy's brief asides into nonessential "first date" type dialog is a little dull, since the audience is armed with the knowledge that entire lives must be covered before the film closes. Once the two characters get into the nitty gritty of their past feelings, including the eternal question of whether they did indeed reunite in Vienna a decade earlier, "Sunset" blossoms. A deep investigation of attraction is what made "Sunrise" so special. In "Sunset," it's the profound, frustrating feelings of regret and anger over missed opportunities, which makes this drama ready to boil over at any moment.
If you hop on one leg, with one eye closed, and chew a stick of bubble gum, you might be able to accept the ending that Linklater serves up for "Sunset." Where "Sunrise" left plot threads open ended for romantic effect, "Sunset" seems to leave things open again just to prolong what has become an experimental film series. There's an elegance to the closing shot of "Before Sunset," but after watching Celine and Jesse go through 70 minutes of ripping open old wounds, something a little more conclusive and passionate would've been greatly appreciated.
Filmfodder Grade: B+