Before Sunset (2004)
Directed by Richard Linklater
“Before Sunset,” director Richard Linklater’s second in a beautiful trilogy of romance movies, proves itself as a far superior achievement than “Before Sunrise.” But it couldn’t have done it without its predecessor, either. Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) have grown in the 9 years since that night in Vienna. When Jesse travels to Paris on his book tour (his book recounts the pair’s romantic Viennese night), Celine is there waiting. She happened to see publicity for his appearance in a Parisian book store. But as they spend Jesse’s last remaining hours in Europe walking around and talking about the past 9 years of their lives, will they pick up where they left off? Or has life gotten in the way?
This story is even more modest than the first, as the events happen more or less in real time. There’s hardly a second that goes by where we’re not seeing exactly what the pair is doing. That means it’s not always perfect. You can’t have 90 minutes of dialogue be realistic and full of Hollywood brilliance. Screw Hollywood. This is like your most philosophical life chat—no more, no less. It’s not all poetry, but there are certainly insights to spare. It makes you think. Not about insane plots or fantasy, but the real meaning of life. No, really. And Hawke and Delpy are perfectly imperfect. They’re talking for 30 minutes on end sometimes, so the lines aren’t always delivered flawlessly. The movie is better because of their blemishes.
The Academy agrees with me. It saw fit to give the screenplay (which was written, alongside Linklater, with Hawke and Delpy, who by this point knew their characters better than anyone) an Oscar nomination. More than deservingly, since “Before Sunset” mixed it’s beautiful dialogue with a riveting story. More than the first time, you wanted to know about the characters and what would happen next. Last time, I was content with their intelligent conversation. Now I’m really invested.
It’s a rare film that combines the popularity of a genuinely good romance with the thoughtful wisdom of an art film script. But Linklater keeps doing it.