Before Sunset

I’m probably biased, but I’ve always considered Richard Linklater’s Before

Sunrise to be a film which is loved by those who have seen it, and hated

by those who haven’t. Linklater is one of the most interesting American directors

working today, but Before Sunrise has always had difficulty being taken

seriously. It’s obvious why: its central conceit is incredibly corny, and Ethan

Hawke has always been rather off-putting. I’m convinced, however, that the film

is a minor masterpiece, a genuinely romantic film with so much intelligence

and honesty that it transcends and reinvents its genre.

I was worried, then, I have to admit, when I saw the trailer

for the sequel, Before Sunset. Mister Voiceover – you know him,

the guy with the deep voice who does all those "in a world…" trailers

– intones dreadful copy ("now, they have one afternoon to find out

if they belong together") over a horribly obtrusive soundtrack. I was convinced

that Linklater had sold out, delivering a schmaltzy piece of summer romantic

fluff in the wake of his kid-friendly School of Rock.

I should have had more faith. After all, School of Rock was an excellent

film itself, and Linklater is still at the stage of his career where he’s

much more likely to overreach

than he is to phone it in. (I must wonder, however, how on earth he ended up

allowing that trailer to go out.) It turns out that Before Sunset is

just as wonderful as Before Sunrise was, and despite having a budget

four times the size of the original, actually works within much greater limitations.

Before Sunset is, to all intents and purposes, a Dogme film. Look

down the list of criteria in the famous vow

of chastity, and, if you consider a Steadicam to be handheld and ignore

the director’s credit, Before Sunset fulfills all of them. Unlike the

trailer, there is no soundtrack: the only music comes when Celine (Julie Delpy)

sings a song, and when Jesse (Ethan Hawke) plays a CD on a home midi system.

In fact, Before Sunset imposes another genuinely onerous limitation

upon itself: the entire film is shot in real time. The 80 minutes of the film

correspond to 80 minutes in the lives of our protagonists, which means the whole

dramatic arc has to play itself out over the course of one long conversation.

And there really is a dramatic arc: this is not – or not only

– a film of ideas, in the tradition of My Dinner With Andre.

Real feelings get explored, and one scene, in the back of a limousine, is the

equal, in emotional clout, of any Oscar-winning drama.

That said, Ethan Hawke is still rather off-putting. His annoying facial hair

remains from the original movie, but in the intervening years he also seems

to have picked up Tom Cruise’s horrible, fake, please-kick-me-in-the-teeth grin.

Frankly, he’s an obnoxious arsehole. His opposite number, Julie Delpy, is not

much more attractive herself: both actors wear decidedly unflattering clothing

(although Hawke clearly spends far too much time on his hair), and a large part

of the genius of the film is the way in which it touches us with the love that

two people feel for each other, even when we can’t really see what the attraction

is in either of them.

There are weak points in the film, especially when Julie Delpy recounts the

time she spent in New York. She talks about living "in the US", and

recounts a story of a police officer telling her that she should go out and

buy a gun – something which would simply never happen if, as she says,

she was living on the corner of 11th Street and Broadway in downtown Manhattan.

Similarly, she compares the "have a nice day" attitude of Americans

to the more dour people she encounters in Paris – again, that’s the sort

of observation which rings true anywhere in America except New York


I was also not entirely taken with the ending, which I shan’t give away here,

but which felt far too clean and simplistic to me. In some ways, Before

Sunset is much more romantic than Before Sunrise. Even as Celine

and Jesse talk at length about their loss of innocence over the past nine years

and the way in which they no longer aspire to or think in romantic clichés,

the director seems to have moved in the opposite direction. The sequel doesn’t

have the wonderful bittersweet open-endedness of the original, nor does it leave

open, as Before Sunrise did, the question of whether the two kids were

ultimately deluding themselves if they thought that a highly artificial night

in Vienna could bespeak eternal love.

Before Sunset does, on the other hand, have some great dialogue, filmed

in endless virtuoso takes, and it shows us that most difficult of emotions to

pin down on screen – love – with a tender yet unblinking eye. The

real achievement of this film is in its asceticism, in its ability to give up

not only the crutches which Dogme has already abandoned, but also give up the

plot twists and complications which turn most love stories into fully-fledged

movies. In one scene, Jesse watches Celine dance. And despite the fact that

you don’t really care about either of the characters, you can see that Jesse

loves Celine, and loves the way she dances. And so, even though we might not

think much of Jesse, or of Celine, or of Celine’s dancing, we still care: about

the emotion that connects them, and which is the raison d’être

for this film and its predecessor. Linklater has gambled, successfully, twice,

that love, alone, can make a movie.

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7 Responses to Before Sunset

  1. Stefan Geens says:

    Before Sunrise is the only movie I’ve ever gone back to see again secretly, by myself, to relive its emotions. It’s the purest attempt I know to capture the specific subjective moment of falling in love, and to keep it in view relentlessly during the course of the entire movie.

  2. Michelle says:

    God, if someone else could have just been in it except Ethan Hawke. However, I must say after watching the film, I wished I liked him more. But I just view him as pathetic… and perhaps in some weird way, maybe that works to his advantage in this movie. His character is a little on the pathetic side, but has bits of endearment.

    There were also parts of the film which were over done, like how Jesse still has dreams of Celine. Ten years later, it doesn’t seem realistic. But over all – I enjoyed walking through the streets of Paris with them. They went through a park which was built on top of an aquaduct which is my new favorite park in Paris, so that was exciting for me to see. I’ve taken their path before.

    Linklater did an excellent job at making a difficult film look like a breeze to shoot. He swiftly executed this encounter, this 80 minute journey. Although a romantic film in Paris is cliche to the max, somehow Linklater caught the energy necessary for the audience to feel as if they were right there. Plus he grabbed some of that old fashioned charm which isn’t easy to evoke in today’s films. Paris is still a beautiful city. And Linklater is a most worthy director.

  3. eric says:

    Not seen Sunset, Sunrise nor Le Rock Academy. However, I just spent several weeks in Austin on the set of RL’s adaptation of Philip K Dick’s Scanner Darkly. He’s doing it ala Waking Life, with a crisper newer version of the animation process. Seeing him operate in person I’d say the man is a skilled, film maker’s director, and I’ve observed more than my share of ‘directors’ to pass judgement. He Ruminates, Ponders and he Makes The Effort, and in this age of filmic shlock, thinking and doing well, that’s enough for me.

    I look forward to Netflix some day bringing me this film you speak of here.

  4. mark zackery says:

    Does anyone know the song or artist to the trailer of Before Sunset?

  5. Bill says:

    Does anyone know where in Paris it was filmed? Especially the walk through what seems to be an above the stret leve park, and where Celeine lives. I want to visit on my next trip.

  6. Yang says:

    Does anyone happen to know what that song is that plays in the Before Sunset trailer as well as on the official website?

  7. Edith says:

    To eric and Bill:

    The song is “Edge of the Ocean,” from Ivy’s Long Distance album.

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