Before Sunset

(2004) *** 1/2 R
80 min. Warner Independent Pictures. Director: Richard Linklater. Cast: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Vernon Dobtcheff, Louise Lemoine Torres, Rodolphe Pauly.

In Richard Linklater's 1995 film Before Sunrise, Julie Delpy's Celine walked with Ethan Hawke's Jesse through the Cemetery of the No Name. Celine says of lost souls, "People can invent the best and the worst for you." Explaining her childhood interest in a young girl's grave, she adds, "Now I'm ten years older, and she's still thirteen, I guess." For nine years, admirers of Before Sunrise have invented the best and the worst about Celine and Jesse, last seen promising to reunite. Though cinema freezes hypothetical people in time—Hawke and Delpy will always be fresh-faced twentysomethings in Before Sunrise—the stars and Linklater acknowledge the passage of time with a worthy and eloquent sequel, Before Sunset.

At the outset of the sequel, which comprises roughly 80 minutes of real time in Paris, Jesse addresses a group of reporters about This Time, an autobiographical novel encompassing the events of the first film. To the question of whether the young lovers ever get back together, he replies, "I think how you answer that is a good test—if you're a romantic or a cynic." In some ways, Linklater deepens the romanticism of the first film by guiding his characters through their own hard-won cynicism to arrive at a long, still look in the mirror of each other.

To some extent, the first film painted Jesse as the male-archetypal cynic and Celine as the female-archetypal romantic idealist, but as Linklater reacquaints them, they seem to have drifted to each other's point of view. Celine tells Jesse, "The world is a mess right now," and he responds, "There are things to be optimistic about." Celine, now an environmental activist, says people "enjoy the goal but not the process." Jesse replies, "Yeah, but that's so hard, you know? To be in the moment. I feel like I'm designed to be slightly dissatisfied with everything." Both have endured miserable relationships, and despite significant obstacles including, once again, time, Linklater sustains emotional suspense about where the rekindled couple is heading.

Like Before Sunrise, Before Sunset locates its emotional realism, and its romance, in near-constant talk. This time, both Hawke and his character are writers (the star has penned a couple of novels), and both Delpy and her character are singer-songwriters (Delpy recently released her first CD); not surprisingly, Hawke and Delpy co-wrote Before Sunset with Linklater, and the film highlights three Delpy ditties, particularly a fetching waltz which she sings and plays on guitar. The personalization of the characters serves the film; like Hawke and Delpy, their characters ache to express themselves, though their one-time openness has turned to a torrid undercurrent of rich subtext: barely hidden agendas, subtle seduction, hurt and fear and euphoria and anticipation. Delpy steals the movie with a hilarious and touching meltdown when she drops her guard and lets feeling spill out.

Before Sunset's strict real time, buoyantly paced in long takes of flowing dialogue, enhances the lifelike tone and underscores the recurrent theme of time itself, with its rippling effects on personality, memory, and fate. One of the film's most striking moments makes time relative: after a steady stream of talk, the two fall into a pregnant pause while ascending a staircase, leaving the audience to imagine what the characters are thinking. The delicious understatement of the film's final lines leaves a scampish impression that the trio of filmmakers may not be done with these characters. Before Sunset, like its predecessor, believes in life, love, intellect, and art's capacity to project and reflect who we are. "Everyone," as Celine puts it, "is made of such beautiful, specific details."

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