Review by Ed Nguyen

Stars: Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke
Director: Richard Linklater
Audio: English and French Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Video: Color, matted widescreen
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: Featurette, trailer
Length: 80 minutes
Release Date: November 9, 2004

"Memory is a wonderful thing if you don't have to deal with the past."

Film ****

In 1994, a little film named Before Sunrise was released in theaters.  Set in the Old World European backdrop of Vienna, it was a tender tale of a brief and fleeting romance.  The story focused entirely on a young American tourist (Ethan Hawke) and a young French girl (Julie Delpy) who, in meeting as strangers on a train, decide on a sudden impulse to spend the entire day together in Vienna, walking the promenades and alleyways of the old city.

Much of the film casually observed these young travelers, Jesse and Celine, in their myriad conversations about pet peeves or personal dreams and aspirations.  Forgoing conventional plot devices, Before Sunrise was a film completely at ease with the simple pleasure and joy of watching two young people slowly and naturally fall in love over the course of a single day.  The story ended the following morning on a melancholy note as Jesse and Celine arrive at the inevitable moment of their separate departures.  Though they must soon part company, perhaps forever, they solemnly vow to try to meet again in Vienna in six months' time.  And thereupon Before Sunrise drew to a close.

Before Sunrise's bittersweet conclusion was a nearly perfect one.  It expressed the sincerity of young love yet also served as a gentle suggestion of the temporal quality of such romance.  We the viewers long for Jesse and Celine to re-unite, but in our hearts we recognize how infrequently promises made in such passion, however earnest, retain their same intensity months later.  Before Sunrise offered the hope of true love yet also a reminder of its fleetingness.

Before Sunrise was directed by Richard Linklater.  Along with earlier successes like Slacker and Dazed and Confused, this film established Linklater among America's most promising independent filmmakers, a director who possessed an uncanny ability to invest his films with heartfelt yet truly earnest emotions.  Slacker provided a common voice for the disenchantment of Generation X, while Dazed and Confused was the 1990's answer to American Graffiti.  Before Sunrise, however, displayed a refreshing and mature attitude towards real romance, not the usual sugar-coated Hollywood version.

Although Before Sunrise was essentially a self-contained story, it did beg one lingering question - did Jesse and Celine ever meet again, or was their time together in Vienna the only crossing of separate destinies?

Before Sunset (2004) provides the answer to that question.  Reuniting Richard Linklater with his stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, Before Sunset picks up the story nine years after Jesse and Celine's encounter in Vienna.  Jesse, as we soon learn, has become a novelist, and he is in Paris promoting a fictional (but clearly autobiographical) account of two lovers meeting for only one day in their lives and then never seeing each other again.  At the conclusion of an autograph and interview session in the Shakespeare & Company book shoppe, Jesse suddenly spies Celine quietly watching him from the aisles of the store.  She gives a little wave and offers a gentle smile.  It is a subtle yet magical moment; even before exchanging dialogue, Jesse and Celine reveal the connection that still ties them together nine years after the paths of their lives initially intertwined.

Jesse quickly concludes his interview and rushes over to greet Celine.  He has little more than one hour before his flight home from Paris, so what then ensues over the next seventy minutes of real-time in Before Sunset is a sublime if poignant reunion between Jesse and Celine.  At first shy and hesitant, they begin to open up once again to one other, slowly revealing the scope of their individual lives since their parting.  The film-long conversation commences in the book store but soon continues along the rues and waterways of Paris.

At once endearing and poignant, Before Sunset unfolds like a slow waltz between two former lovers.  We learn whether either Jesse or Celine returned to Vienna again as promised (and if not, then why so).  We learn of the accomplishments and disappointments since in their separate lives as each ponders over the path-not-taken.  Both Jesse and Celine reflect on how their brief time together has affected their subsequent lives and how those lives might well have differed if only Jesse and Celine had met once more as planned.

Julie Delpy's Celine remains as luminous and beautiful as ever, although perhaps wiser and more cynical from the effects of her life's decisions, good or bad, over the years.  Ethan Hawke's Jesse is equally world-weary, but when the couple are together, we can see the animated sparkle of youth and longing that still persists in their eyes and their reactions towards one another.  Linklater displays a great deal of restraint and subtlety in revealing many key details initially in gestures or facial expressions, even before they are mentioned in the dialogue.  While Before Sunset is extremely dialogue-driven, it can also be described, in this sense, as a highly visual film.

The casual, easy pacing of Before Sunset almost belies the anxious nature of two young lovers meeting with only one brief hour to themselves in which to condense the entirety of their experiences.  Much of the joy of Before Sunset rests in watching the interactions between Jesse and Celine, even as both are aware that they may never again meet.  I will not diminish the film's impact any further by discussing the "plot," such as it exists, but I will say that the film's conclusion is close to perfection, a dreamy and open-ended prelude to fates unknown.  Do Jesse and Celine still love one another?  Will they remain together, or will their paths diverge once again?  Linklater provides no concrete answers to these questions, and individual viewers must find the truth within their own hearts.

Today, too many sequels are redundant and made entirely for commercial reasons.  Before Sunrise made little impact at the box office, yet it was nearly perfect in its romantic and authentic ambiance.  The intimate sequel, Before Sunset, was thus never a film with any lofty box office aspirations; it was instead purely a labor of love for its director and stars, a film that succeeds from the universality of its appeal.  All audiences will recognize a part of themselves in this film, whether in the optimistic idealism of youth or the weary cynicism of adulthood.  Before Sunset is true love as reflected in real life, and its raw emotions and honest portrayals outshine those of most any Hollywood sequel.

Video ****

Before Sunset looks quite gorgeous.  Filmed on location with mostly natural lighting, the film eschews a polished Hollywood sheen for the authenticity of natural settings and lighting.  The transfer is very good, reflecting accurate flesh tones and realistic colors.  I detected no mastering artifacts.

Audio ***

Before Sunset is a heavily dialogue-driven film.  Ambient background noise occasionally enter the mix to recreate the sounds of Paris, but otherwise, the conversations between Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are predominant.

Delpy also wrote and sang three love tunes for the score (two appear in the opening and closing credits, while the third is very integral to the film's denouement).

Features *

"What if you had a second chance with the one that got away?"

Too bad Warner Brothers did not deem this wonderful film worthy of more than a few unremarkable extras.  There is a short trailer for Before Sunset, and a "Making-Of" featurette (9 min.) is included but does not offer much in the way of surprises.  Still, it is a pleasant excursion on the set with stars Delpy and Hawke as they both discuss how the storyline evolved over the years since Before Sunrise.  Perhaps of most interest to admirers of the film is Hawke's desire to make more films about Jesse and Celine over the course of their lives, from youth's carefree gaiety to the inevitable responsibilities and choices of adulthood and finally to the wisdom of age and maturity.

BONUS TRIVIA:  Julie Delpy's real parents, Albert Delpy and Marie Pillet, make cameo appearances in the film's courtyard scene by her apartment.


For me, not only is Before Sunset the best sequel of 2004, it is the best film of 2004, period, even surpassing the sublime emotional resonance of its predecessor.  If you enjoy sincere romances, watch Before Sunrise and Before Sunset together for one of the most authentically heartwarming experiences you will ever have from film.

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