Before Sunset

Before Sunset

***1/2

Reviewed by: David Haviland

In 1995 Richard Linklater released Before Sunrise, confirming his status as the voice of Generation X, after the cult successes of Slacker and Dazed And Confused. That film told the story of two young travellers, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, who spend one romantic evening together in Vienna.

I had forgotten how well loved Before Sunrise was, until I saw a trailer for Before Sunset a few weeks ago, and heard girls in the audience gasp with recognition, turning to their neighbours and saying, "God, I loved that film!"

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This is the sequel, and I think they'll love it just as much. At the end of the first film, Jesse and Celine parted without swapping any personal details, but agreed to meet six months later. Before Sunset picks up the story nine years on, as the pair are reunited in Paris at a signing of Jesse's book.

The book is based on their night together in Vienna and it's only the attendant publicity that has brought them together. Initially, they are tentative, as questions hang in the air: did either of them go to Vienna six months on as promised? Are they single? Did they really connect the way they remembered?

Gradually, these questions are answered, as they spend the 75 minutes they have together before Jesse has to catch a plane. The story is told in real time and, like the first, is made up of long dialogue scenes, in which the characters discuss their feelings and politics in the broken, fractured style of real conversations.

This type of storytelling won't appeal to everyone, but there's certainly a lot to admire. The film is simply and beautifully shot, with long, demanding takes, as the characters wander the streets of Paris. Hawke and Delpy wonderfully capture the pauses and gestures of everyday speech, so it's a real surprise to learn that the film is tightly scripted, with no improvisation.

The actors' input is also impressive, as the pair wrote most of the excellent dialogue themselves, corresponding with Linklater and each other for months by email. Delpy also performs three self-penned songs on the soundtrack; as if there weren't enough reasons to fall in love with her.

With all this in mind, I wish I liked the film more, but even nine years on, Jesse and Celine still strike me as a pair of self-involved, faux intellectuals spouting empty platitudes. They admire Buddhism, but have no religion. They rail against consumerism, but go through semantic cartwheels to justify the social merits of expensive shoes.

Still, this is a film that aims for realism rather than heroism, and in this it succeeds, as few of us live up to our ideal selves, and Jesse and Celine are essentially likeable characters. Besides, what could be more realistic than two people, who fancy each other, talking complete rubbish?

Reviewed on: 23 Jul 2004
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Before Sunset packshot
Two young people meet again in Paris nine years after a romantic night in Vienna.
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Read more Before Sunset reviews:

Keith Hennessey Brown ****

Director: Richard Linklater

Writer: Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, based on a story by Richard Linklater and Kim Krizan.

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Vernon Dobtcheff, Louise Lemoine Torres, Rodolphe Pauly, Mariane Plasteig, Albert Delpy

Year: 2004

Runtime: 80 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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