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July 2004

By Julian Roman

Before Sunset

Distributor: Warner Independent Pictures
Director: Richard Linklater
Producers: Richard Linklater & Anne Walker-McBay
Screenwriter: Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, & Julie Delpy
Cinematographer: Lee Daniel
Composer: Julie Delpy
Cast: Ethan Hawke & Julie Delpy
Running Time: 80 min



When we last saw Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) in "Before Sunrise", they had spent a romantic night in Vienna and were going their separate ways. They made each other a promise to return to the same train station in six months. Then they would pick up where they left off and follow the direction their hearts would lead. Nine years later, we see Jesse at a book signing in Paris. He has written a best seller based on his night with Celine. He's answering a reporter's question when he notices her. Celine is in the back of the room. He quickly wraps up the event and embraces her. It turns out that they didn't meet in six months. They haven't seen each other in almost ten years. Jesse is booked on a flight that leaves in a few hours. That gives them an hour and a half before he has to leave for the airport. Celine offers to take him on a quick walk around Paris, where they can catch up and see how their lives have changed.

Before Sunset is a deeply romantic, sublimely beautiful film. It is cinematic poetry, a love story like nothing we've ever seen. The film takes place in real time. That means the running time of ninety-minutes directly reflects the time they spend together walking around Paris. It is magnificently done, a masterpiece of acting and filmmaking. They start off timidly. Was their night together merely a fluke or did they really have a special connection? There wouldn't be a story if there weren't a love between them. Their voyage of rediscovery is absolutely enchanting. At first they dodge around the issue, but it soon erupts. Where the meant for each other? Was he or she the one that got away? It turns out that Jessie did go back to Vienna six months later. Celine did not go because her grandmother's funeral was the day they had planned to meet. She had wondered, all this time, if Jessie was there. He was heartbroken that she wasn't. Even after years apart, they still ache for each other. But their lives are much more complex now and an idealistic love may be nothing more than a fantasy.

Richard Linklater, the director and co-writer of both films, poses many interesting questions with this story. Can one night, one special connection, lead to true love? Or have they idealized their night together? Would they have lasted if they were in a relationship? Is there any credence to the "one that got away" concept? Why didn't they get each other's telephone number? How could they have let each other slip away? This is the conundrum facing Jesse and Celine. Their time together is limited. Jesse's flight is imminent and they have to figure out what exists between them.

The joy of watching this film is the conclusion. Their time together is a revealing, truthful look in the lives of two people in love. Giving nothing away plot-wise, there would be serious consequences to any action they take. It boils down to how they really feel about each other. We see them slowly build up to a critical moment of understanding. You'll have to see it to find out, but trust me when I say it is stunning; the kind of moment that will echo through film history. On par with the last fleeting whisper Bill Murray said to Scarlet Johansen in Lost In Translation. It's that good.

Jesse and Celine signify all that is possible when two people meet. They could easily leap of the screen and walk together through the theater. They are people who have found what they were searching for, but don't know how to react to it. We all hope and desire the one person that can complete us. Maybe we do find them, but don't know how to judge if they are the one. Before Sunset is a film about that journey. Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, and Richard Linklater have made a romance to rival the classics. It is a lovely film.