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Revisiting BEFORE SUNSET 15 Years Later

Keli revisits Before Sunset for its 15th anniversary.

Back in 1995, Richard Linklater—director best known for Slacker and Dazed and Confused—left the chronicle of America’s wasted youth and made a small, offbeat romance called Before Sunrise. Serving as a caprice rather than a lifelong passion, the film represents a deep, appealing connection that intertwines itself around an American backpacker, Jesse (Ethan Hawke), and a French student, Céline (Julie Delpy), who meet on a train and impetuously agree to spend a day together in Vienna. They charm themselves as much as the romantically-inclined audience everywhere when they dive into conversations as though they had known each other their whole lives. Turning into a miraculous and romantic adventure that comes to an end, Céline and Jesse decide to exchange phone numbers, agreeing simply to rendezvous in six months. The film ends with the pair brooding separately as the promise they make dissolves once the credits roll. The crux of the matter is that both characters would meet again six months on, to reminisce in the passion of the daydream that they endured on that single day in Vienna, and to ultimately collect the love that they held for each other. But, ultimately, would they be there to reinforce just that?

Were you there in Vienna, in December?” she asks him.

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Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in Before Sunset (2004) – source: Warner Independent Pictures

Linklater follows up with a sequel to Jesse and Céline’s romantic encounter in Vienna, with even more soul of generosity, intimate material and a beautifully vibrant approach to the structure of their relationship—and it’s just what we needed. Expanding effortlessly on the original, Before Sunset dives deep into the nine years that the audience have missed from the lives of both students. Meeting again in Paris, Jesse is travelling around Europe after writing a novel about their long night together, and at a book signing, he looks up—and there she stands. Continuing the conversation that began in Before Sunrise, but at a much riskier level, they begin to talk again, in a rush, so Jesse can leave to catch his flight back to America. Both over thirty now, they start to contemplate the commitments that they have made in life—no longer feeling that transparency as they did back in 1995 when everything was possible. However, one thing they have learned, but are slow to reveal it, is how rare it is to meet someone they felt an instinctive connection with. Walking out of the bookstore together, taking turns around corners as they walk and talk, Linklater films the long, effortlessly, uninterrupted takes of the pairs conversations—making the film mark a sense of realism as it feels like it exists in real time.

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Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in Before Sunset (2004) – source: Warner Independent Pictures

Before Sunset is a remarkable celebration resulting in the fascination of good dialogue, and the art form that speaks patience, reticence, and responsibility that the characters have grown to become. With the pair no longer having a instinctive trust, Jesse and Céline have developed into characters that are much more older and wiser, and basing off of the fact that Hawke and Delpy wrote the dialogue themselves, it seems that the film has the materials for a lifetime project; conversations that could return every nine years as the actors and characters grow older.

Delicately leading up to much personal details (erupting from talks of politeness and in abstractions, to discussions on whether one of them is getting married, remaining a subtle attraction or are happy in their lives), Before Sunset reveals that the film isn’t a confessional extract, but an act in which the characters don’t rush into revelations. Linklater ensures that Jesse and Céline reflect on who they have become before rushing into the quick instinctive trust that they had when they were younger. Moving at a pace that requires patience at work, the characters are shown to have obtained responsibilities and are even wary of revealing too much. It’s when they express themselves as grown-ups and attain to much older and wiser traits—at least for the afternoon in Paris that they spend together—do we see the open, spontaneous and hopeful kids that they were nine years before.

Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in Before Sunset (2004) – source: Warner Independent Pictures

Mastering a side of fascination intertwined with intersecting timelines, Before Sunset succeeds with adapting two characters to feel an agonizing conflict between desire and duty, and the loneliness that lingers around their failing relationships. When Céline and Jesse are parted, they left without knowing each other’s last name or home addresses—but they staked out everything in order to remain the promise of meeting again in six months. Through conversation, we find what happened during Vienna back in December while Jesse was living there, stating, “In the months heading up to my wedding, I was thinking of you,” he tells her—just as he thought he saw her once in the deli at 17th and Broadway. She knows the deli…so maybe he did.

With the amount of walking and talking down streets, through gardens, past shops, into cafés, towards courtyards and the flat Céline lived in for four years, the discussions that they have aren’t made to pass the time, but are instead filled with intricate details to cover up the possibility that they are both thinking. The possibility that they missed a lifetime they were intended to spend together. Jesse soon confesses that he wrote his book and came to a book signing in Paris so he could find Céline again. A little later, in a indistinct bodily movement, she reaches out to touch him but pulls back her hand before he sees it—an act in which Jesse did to her when they first met.

The film is far from earnest or depressing brimmed with humor and joy, but its a counterpoint in cinema where a film can drop snippets from regular intervals; tiny ripples on the Richter Scale, perhaps, to emphasize the important twists in the context of two characters, who are unaware of their destined love for each other. Set against the beauty of Paris, it’s nearly impossible not to be seduced by the enchanted aesthetics and golden-dappled tracking shots that the film pulls off so smoothly. But, nonetheless, its a film that engages an honest study of love, loss, and just maybe, regain—sweetened together with one beautiful emotional ending with the defy of plans motioned with the act of free will. And maybe he was gonna miss that plane, but it sure as hell was worth it when he had the woman he loved by his side.

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