Before Sunset. DVD. Directed by Richard Linklater. Warner Bros. Entertainment, 2004.
This movie is the sequel to Linklater’s earlier _Before Sunrise_ (1995), in which Jesse (Ethan Hawke), an American, meets young a young French woman, Celine (Julie Delpy), on a train to Vienna, and spends a night with her before they have to part ways.
At the end of that film, Jesse and Celine made plans to meet each other in Vienna again in six months. As we soon discover, Jesse returned for the meeting, but Celine, though she wanted to, could not. So nearly ten years have passed before they meet again, Celine appearing at a bookshop where Jesse is promoting his bestselling novel, a mostly autobiographical account of their night together.
Like _Before Sunrise_, this movie is a conversation with a time limit. Jesse now has to catch a plane out of Paris just hours after meeting Celine again, and they have only until then to talk about their lives since they last met, and to deal with what that meeting had meant to them both. For the most part, their conversation is crushingly but realistically banal and evasive. They talk about their jobs, their relationships, and skirt around what is the real issue: how they feel about each other now they have finally met again.
It’s only when their time is running out that they each reveal the extent to which the memory of their one night together has destroyed their ability to love anyone else. Jesse hints repeatedly at the lack of love in his marriage, and how he is only bound to it out of a sense of duty to his young son. Delpy unconvincingly portrays Celine’s sudden burst of anger on the car-ride to her apartment, in which she blames Jesse for her string of superficial relationships with other men. They ascend the stairs to her room, ostensibly so that Celine can play Jesse one the songs she has written, in a silence punctuated by glances that speak of the unacknowledged inevitability of their becoming lovers one more time. Finally, when Celine breaks out her guitar and sings a song about how a man she met one night was everything she ever wanted, Delpy’s sweet, warm voice breaks out of the banality entirely with an elegiac testimony to her love for Jesse that is entirely free of bitterness about never having seen him again.
Finally, a few words passed between them, ending the film, show them both acknowledging Jesse is going to miss his plane: that because of what they have revealed, they are going to leave their relationships for each other. It’s a pleasing change from the similar resolution of the chance meeting in _Lost in Translation_ (2003), where Bob (Bill Murray) goes back to his deadening home-life despite having made an enlivening connection with both Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) and TÃ´kyÃ´.
_Before Sunset_ is not a visually interesting movie, and, as I said, the conversation that drives the movie is mostly banal. The film isn’t meritorious in itself, but rather as a sequel. Those who haven’t seen _Before Sunrise_ are advised to see it first or stay away. For those with the necessary background, though, _Before Sunset_ is a thoughtful and affecting wrap-up of the story that Linklater left unfinished back in 1995.