Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy reunite in Paris in Before Sunset (2004) after going their separate ways in 1994 in Vienna. Jesse is a published Author, Celine is an environmental activist and they haven’t seen each other for 9 years after that one night in Vienna.
The movie opens with Jesse sitting in the famed Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris for a book signing and interview with Parisian reporters about his book which is based on the one night he spent with Celine walking the streets of Vienna and talking about everything under the sun. Celine walks in and they are back where they left off.
Wandering the streets of Paris, catching up on the time that has passed, 9 years is a lot to catch up on. But before they do that they have to get the question of if either of them made it to Vienna as they had promised 6 months after they last saw each other 9 years ago or not. I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen the movie but that is one of the most tender moments in the movie that is devoid of any hijinks or drama and just another conversation that needs to be had.
Each of them has lived a life in the past 9 years that has changed who they were 9 years ago. But once again when they meet there is no grudges or regrets or resentment, it’s like it is 6 months after Vienna. But then slowly as the movie progresses you can see the regrets start showing, regrets about how different the life would’ve been had they met again in Vienna as promised and fallen in love and lived a life together the past 9 years. Resentment about the fact that one of them idealized the night to the point of perfection that nothing since then has been able to live up to that moment.
Hawke and Delpy collaborated with Linklater on the screenplay and the effect is evident , the conversations do not feel forced, it feels organic and also a little voyeuristic , like you are snooping in on a couple having a private conversation, a conversation that is not meant to be overheard.
The heady romanticism of youth in the early 20s is replaced with the longing for a different life of the 30s; the conversations are darker, yet honest. The dreams that they had in their 20s seem a little silly now while still a lot better than the mere existential lives of today. I cannot go into more details without revealing the plot a little bit but suffice to say that there is also a sense of things coming unraveled in the personal lives of these two people who we fell in love with in Vienna and cannot bare to see them unhappy. But while they may be unhappy they do it with a shrug of the shoulders and a sad smile that seems to say “Well that’s life! What can you do?”
Like Sunrise, Sunset also ends on ambiguity, each having confessed to the lack of romance in their personal lives end up at Celine’s apartment where she plays him a song she wrote about him. Then they relive the record store moment from Vienna by putting in a CD of the same artist they were listening to in that listening booth. Celine then does an impression of Nina Simone at concert and you laugh, you laugh like Jesse does, you feel like Jesse does, you want them to be together, they are meant to be. But then Celine admonishes that Jesse will miss his flight and then credits roll. Leaving you another 9 years’ worth of second guessing, did he miss his flight? Did he get on the flight never to return again?
What Linklater has achieved is phenomenal, I couldn’t believe he could top Before Sunrise but here is does. The relationship between Jesse and Celine has grown and matured as have the characters. Yet they still possess that magic of conversation which can tide over 9 years of not having seen each other.
Like I mentioned in the comments on the Before Sunrise review, I finally got around to watching these movies because I want to watch Before Midnight comes out this year, after a gap of 9 year and you want to see where the journey has led them.