Friday, August 23, 2013

Before Sunset: More, please!

Movie Review: Before Sunset

Directors: Richard Linklater

Reviewed: 23 August 2013

jamesintexas rating--****

To find a sequel that captures the spirit and joy of its predecessor is a rare thing. In its own philosophical, meandering way, Before Sunset is the superfluous and utterly delightful follow-up to 1995's Before Sunrise, a complete self-contained story that left things open-ended between French student Celine  (Julie Delpy) and American tourist Jesse (Ethan Hawke). Yet in its creation, director Richard Linklater offers a tantalizing scenario. What if these two smart, engaging people met again after a nine year hiatus? Jesse, now a best selling author in part because of his obsession with the romanticism of that one night encounter in Vienna, finds himself in a Parisian bookstore reading from his latest work. Celine, now an environmental activist, appears at the window as he speaks. They reunite and reconnect in the fading light of the day. The diminishing time until Jesse needs to be at the airport to fly back to the states provides the unseen but very much felt pressure of the importance of this moment and these conversations.

Just as his first film walked the couple through the streets of Vienna, here Linklater's camera tracks them in medium shots down cobblestone streets, in cafes drinking coffee, on a tourist boat in the Seine River, as well as inside the back of a car. Watching this film, I was struck by how much it upends my normal movie-going expectations. No one else the couple meant was going to matter. There does not need to be a certain trajectory. There is no antagonist in the traditional sense. The conversation is the story. The two characters understand the nature of this encounter: it offers up to them a chance to consider how life could have been. Jesse talks at one point about understanding time as "moments within moments" while Celine notes, "Memories are wonderful things, if you don't have to deal with the past." They are both still intrigued by what the other offers.

A film can transport an audience and make us feel the rush and heartbeat of life in the same way that a great book can make it possible to live a different life in a different place. Art represents a natural, endless human fascination with our own relationship to time, and Linklater's film offers two amazing actors, offering two slightly weathered, somewhat older and wiser performances that stand alone and comment upon the 1995 versions of themselves. In a way, Linklater's film chronicles memory and the persistence of hope, making an unabashedly romantic film with a lightness of touch and the elegance of a song well-sung. The ending astonished me, provoking an audible gasp. The two films are quite the achievement, and I think that they are both quiet masterpieces.

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