Before Sunset (2004)
Celine: Julie Delpy
directed by Richard Linklater. Running time: 80 minutes. Rated R
When Before Sunrise arrived in theatres in 1995, it was a box office bomb though admittedly since it was a very small film, I doubt it was a shock. However, since that time home video and dvd’s would transform it into one of those movies that seemed to gain in popularity with each passing year. It was an incandescently beautiful movie about young love and meeting someone who’s mind and soul seemingly complimented yours. Wistful romance, idealism and optimism about both Jesse and Celine and their future dominated every frame. Then at the end of their one night of perfection in Vienna, they parted but committed to coming back six months later. Did that meeting happen?
It’s been nine years and Jesse has written a book, This Time, about their one day and night together. It’s been a minor bestseller and he’s currently in Paris on the last leg of his European book tour. As he’s answering questions to a group of journalists in a Parisian bookstore, she appears at the fringe of the crowd. Jesse naturally looks shocked as his memories and ours come flooding back. They reunite awkwardly outside and immediately the question is raised about what happened on that fateful December day. It turns out that Celine’s grandmother in Budapest, the one she had been visiting in Before Sunrise, had passed away a few days prior to their planned reunion. Since the two did not exchange last names or even phone numbers, Celine was unable to contact Jesse. At first he admits to not going before finally confessing that he had indeed been there. Both laugh painfully about it before moving on and walking to a nearby coffee shop.
Jesse of course is a writer and Celine works from Green Cross, a humanitarian organization dedicated to helping those in need. Both seem happy in their job lives. Each occupation given to the characters seems well thought out. Celine certainly seems like she was destined for this type of thing, while Jesse’s aspirations for writing is about as perfect as you can get to matching character with profession.
It turns out that the movie is in real time. Unlike the 14 hours they had in Vienna, Jesse only has eighty minutes before he’s scheduled to fly back to the states again. Given such a short amount of time, the two probe one another for what the other is feeling before retreating behind their armor.
The past ten years it turns out, have not been nearly as wonderful as these two might have once hoped and it is obvious that they have changed. Where they once seemed naive, yet ready to take on a life full of possibilities, now it’s replaced with an ache and weariness about the compromises each has had to make in their adult lives. It’s not only the compromises, but the combination of second guessing, as well as the failures we perceive in our life’s tale and the missed opportunities we let go or are taken from us.
Their one night stand, plus their missed meeting months later has left an indelible mark on each. Both Jesse and Celine’s lives have been marred by the luminescence of that one night together, so much so that none of their relationships since have managed to hold up to their one night. Jesse is married with a son, while Celine is with a photographer who is often away. Both initially claim to be happy, but before long it’s apparent to both us and to them that it’s an illusion. Jesse married his wife because she was pregnant, while Celine claims to be in love, but professes that she cannot stand to be with him often and longs for him to be away so as to make their short times together happier.
As they walk and talk their way around Paris, their conversations revolve around politics, the nature of memory, sex, and regrets. Nine years have given them each plenty of material on these subjects and more. We see as they go along that the one day and night together nearly a decade ago was no fluke. These two a simply made for one another and it goes without saying that in many ways this reunion was a test, not only to see if those feelings and attraction still exist, but as a test to see if that one night where each seemed to be the others soul mate was a temporary thing rather than something much more permanent.
The writing and screenplay for Before Sunset is amazing, both it it’s flow and it’s dialogue. Lines are completely convincing and often delve deeper than almost any we hear at the movies. Here is an example of that dialogue. Jesse is talking with Celine about why he got married to his wife. One of the reasons I picked it was not only for the dialogue, but because it’s the scene depicted on the dvd cover above.
Céline: So, (sigh) what is it like to be married? You haven’t talked much about that. (Circles back to Jesse’s left and leans on the front railing.)
Jesse: I haven’t? (Sarcastically.) How weird?! I don’t know, we met…you know when I was in college…and uh…we broke up and got back together, for a period of years, and then…um…what…we were sort of back together, and she was pregnant…so, marriage.
Céline: What is she like?
Jesse: She’s a great teacher, a good mom. Ahh, she’s smart…pretty…I remember thinking at the time, that so many of the men that I admired most, you know, that their lives were…were dedicated to something greater than themselves.
Céline: So you got married because men you admired were married?
Jesse: No, no, it…it’s more like I have this…this idea of my best self! You know? And I wanted to pursue that…even if it might have been overriding my honest self! You know what I’m saying? I mean, it’s funny like…in the moment I remember thinking that it didn’t much matter the “Who?” of it all…I mean that…that nobody is gonna be everything to you…and that ultimately it’s just a simple action of committing yourself, you know meeting your responsibilities that…that matters. I mean what is love, right, if it’s not respect, trust, admiration…and I…I felt all those things! So cut to the present tense, and I feel like I’m running a small nursery with somebody I…used to date, you know. I mean, I’m like a monk, you know. I mean, I’ve had sex less than…10 times in the last 4 years. (Céline breaks into laughter.) What? What, what? Are you laughing at me?
Dialogue such as this is a rarity in a rare movie that deigns to be better and more honest than 99.9% of the movies out there that are about relationships. Much like the first movie, there is an absence of a heavy plot that burdens most movies of this nature. Neither Jesse’s wife nor Celine’s boyfriend show up in the third act to cause trouble. Also, there is no sign of a terrible secret to make either run so the other has to chase them or win them back. In essence, the movie bears little resemblance to the run-of-the-mill crapfests we are forced to digest each year.
The acting is perfect. So perfect in fact that it’s easy to take it for granted and why neither were nominated for an Oscar. No over dramatic Oscar scene chewing here. Instead we are treated to naturalistic acting that is the hardest to do. These two are as perfect for these roles as two actors can be.
Likewise Richard Linklater’s direction is amazing in it’s simplicity. No sweeping shots or anything that might detract from the actors. It’s subtle directing that is difficult when you are filming scenes where your actors are speaking pages and pages of dialogue in an uncut 5 minute scene. Despite great films and much respect in Hollywood, Linklater has never been given credit for his exceptional work throughout his career. It’s about time he gets it.
As with the first film, this one is not for those who want a standard romantic comedy. Those who were turned off by the first will probably be turned off here too. But for those looking for a movie that probes deeper and unlocks truths about relationships, it’s an intoxicating experience not to be missed. The chance to be included in the voyeuristic experience of Jesse and Celine’s lives in both Before Sunrise and Before Sunset has and will remain to be a joy. I for one am looking forward to another amazing sequel.