It’s twilight time
Two lovers reunite in Paris for another brief yet revealing romantic encounter
Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset, as you may have heard, is a kind of sequel to Before Sunrise, the 1994 Linklater film in which a young couple, an American (Ethan Hawke) and a European (Julie Delpy), have a brief, intense romantic encounter while waiting to depart from Vienna. In the new film, the couple (played again by Hawke and Delpy) reunites for the first time, nine years later, under similar circumstances, in Paris.
You don’t have to have seen the earlier film to appreciate the new one, which is laced with brief flashbacks and considerable mulling of the characters’ charged memories of their original meeting. Better yet, the new film is a smart, funny, moving love story in its own right, with two engagingly articulate people reflecting not only on their abrupt, lengthily interrupted romance, but also on what has changed for them and what has not in the course of those nine subsequent years apart.
By some small miracle of paradoxical film art, the new film is even better than its predecessor, despite the impression that the lead characters are less overtly appealing now than they were then. Part of what makes the difference is the characters’ fluctuating, hard-won maturity—they are less like movie actors and more like real-life adults, but still generating surprising combinations of passion and intelligence.
Before Sunset begins with the Hawke character talking about his new book at a famous Paris bookshop, and so it is no surprise that the film is full of witty, intelligent conversation. What is surprising is that after nearly an hour of bi-play between suddenly reunited lovers, Linklater and his actors (who improvised elements of their respective characters) take the rekindled relationship into a series of marvelous and mostly unpredictable moments.
Much of the film is in a walking-and-talking mode, but later on more dynamic kinds of movement (a boat ride, a car ride, the charmed ascent of a spiral staircase) evoke a remarkable build-up of emotions previously held in check. The near-documentary performances of Delpy and Hawke add greatly to the film’s earnest charm—they’re following a couple of fictional characters further along their lives’ paths, but there’s a teasing sense that they’re also playing themselves—two actors, not so young now, wrestling with what they seem to have become.