It’s 1994, and Jesse (Ethan Hawke), an American about to fly home, meets Celine (Julie Delpy), a French girl heading home, on a train that passes through Vienna. After conversing on the train, Jesse asks Celine to spend the night with him in Vienna before his flight leaves the following morning. She accepts, and throughout the course of the night the two talk about a wide variety of subjects: life, eternity, family, love, etc. In one fateful night they become soul mates Before Sunrise. They agree to meet each other at the train platform they parted at six months later.
Fast forward 9 years, Jesse is married and has a son. He has also written This Time, an American bestseller based largely on the one night he had with Celine. The two cross paths again in Paris on the final stop of his book tour promoting the book. In similar fashion to Before Sunrise, Before Sunset involves a lot of conversations these two characters share as they exchange pleasantries and dig deeper into where their lives have gone since their last brief encounter.
I watched Before Sunset some time ago, and as the 501 must-see movies book suggested, “it’s not in any way necessary to have seen Before Sunrise, this films predecessor and the arthouse hit which cemented the careers of the three main players (Hawke, Delpy, and director Richard Linklater).” This time around I started with Sunrise and then watched this one. While Sunset did have plenty of flashbacks and communicated the main idea and driving points of the first film, I had a lot more thorough understanding and appreciation for what happens in this movie having seen Sunrise first.
Something great about this film was how it unfolded more or less in real-time. Since they have one afternoon, or more like part of an afternoon, it seems realistic that not much would be cut or compressed as compared to others, or Sunrise, in which an hour and forty minutes covers from one afternoon to the following morning.
The candid honesty of these characters is refreshing. Since they only have a brief time together, Jesse and Celine cut through the surface-level b.s. and get down to conversations with meaning and purpose. Hawke and Delpy’s chemistry is very apparent, and while it’s been 9 years since their last encounter, they pick up immediately as if it had only been a week. It turns out that Jesse went to the train station platform. Celine, however, wasn’t able to make it since her grandmother had died that week. Also, since they hadn’t exchanged contact information, there was no way of getting a hold of the other person.
Cutting through the layers helps to reveal how these two old friends who have such great chemistry and on the surface would seem happy have become more cynical and miserable in their circumstances. Celine is absorbed in her work and doesn’t have good luck with men, and Jesse married his wife because she got pregnant and his son is the only reason he stays with her. They are now in their early 30s, and you see the growth compared to their idealistic viewpoint they had in Sunrise.
Everything comes to a head in one of the final scenes where Jesse and Celine are chauffeured to her apartment. It’s one of those scenes that you have to get it all right and you really can’t cut together different takes. Delpy and Hawke’s acting capabilities show through as each pours out their heart to the other and they connect their night in Vienna to their current misery.
This movie was filmed over a very short time. I believe they had three weeks to rehearse and 15 days to film. Their filming time was also limited by time-of-day restrictions. Since it takes place in late afternoon, naturally that was the only time they could film to get the right lighting.
It’s interesting for me to watch this movie again since I have gotten married since my first viewing. It will be interesting to revisit these movies again down the line, say, when we start having kids. It’s interesting, at least for me, to see something like Before Sunset in new perspectives and stages of life.
Before Sunset is a gem that builds nicely on its predecessor, and does a great job of continuing a story that could have gone any way after Before Sunrise. Seeing this story continued helps answer a lot of “what ifs” the audience was left with. The writing trio has filmed another sequel, Before Midnight, that was shown at the Sundance Film Festival, and will be released in May. I will be seeing it.
My Rating; 5 out of 5 stars.