Richard Linklater's 1995 Before Sunrise was a sweet and fairly unassuming film about two people who spend one night falling in love while in Vienna but who don't (quite) end up together at the end. Nine years later, the same two lovebirds accidentally reunite in Paris. It's a different city, but they're still walking, still talking--and whether they ever get together or not--still sweet and fairly unassuming.
Back in 1995, when they were young and carefree, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) met on a train heading to Vienna and shared an intensely romantic 14-hour relationship, exploring the Austrian city as well as each other. Although they had to part, they swore to each other they'd meet again, at the same train platform, six months later. Of course, the appointment was never kept. Jumping to the present day, we find an older Jesse in a Paris bookstore signing copies of the bestseller he wrote about that amazing night in Vienna and is on the last leg of his European book tour, just hours before going back to his wife and kid in New York. Suddenly he looks up to see the lovely Celine, who now lives in Paris working as an environmentalist, standing in the back of the room. Jesse's heart flutters. Not wanting to miss an opportunity to be with the one who got away, the writer quickly ushers his muse out onto the streets of Paris, where they walk, talk, find out why it didn't work out nine years ago and realize the connection they once had is still as real as ever. Exploring the inner workings of their hearts and minds, they rediscover something rare and powerful--each other.
Hawke is looking a little more haggard these days (perhaps his nasty divorce to Uma Thurman is taking a toll on him)--but at least the actor uses his angst to its full advantage. Jesse's puppy-dog quality in Sunrise has now been replaced by a deeper, sexier maturity in Sunset. But even a world-weary outlook can't hide Jesse's emotions, which are many and varied. When he sees Celine again for the first time, his visceral reaction is palpable. Delpy's Celine, on the other hand, seems not to have grown up much at all in the last nine years. She's still annoyingly insecure about her job, her looks, what happened between them--and she says things like, ''Memories are wonderful things if you don't have to deal with the past.'' Huh? Even Jesse calls her, at one point, an ''angry manic-depressive activist.'' Yet, together, the actors make the relationship seem genuine. Celine may grate on us but Jesse is clearly enamored, watching her get embarrassed when their talk turns to sex or get excited about her job, while Celine feels for him, even getting angry at him for screwing up her ideas on what true love is all about. The last scene of movie, however, caps it. Jesse ends up at Celine's apartment for some tea, perhaps late for his plane, while she simply dances to the music playing. Will he stay? Take a wild guess.
A sequel? Seems more like a vanity project--but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Apparently, director Richard Linklater and his two stars have always thought about doing a follow up to the critically acclaimed but little seen Before Sunrise, which grossed $5.4 million in 1995--not bad for an indie, but not the kind of box office booty that makes studios clamor for a sequel. Yet, after they worked together in 2001 on Linklater's odd animated film Waking Life, which reunites Jesse and Celine in a bedroom scene, the trio decided to flesh out a story about these two characters meeting up again nine years later. ''For the three of us, it represents a kind of life project,'' Linklater told Entertainment Weekly, which means there could be future Jesse and Celine stories. No wonder. This is one of those movies real actors and real directors like to do. There are no special effects, no stunts--just a lot of conversation and a lot of raw emotions. For the most part, it works, due to the unadulterated dialogue and almost too real relationship between Jesse and Celine. Audience members, at any age, will be able to connect with something in this film, whether its remembering the awkwardness of being with someone you really like or remembering an unrequited love.
Although a sequel may not have been entirely necessary, Before Sunset does provide some closure on this particular take on the age-old question about getting a second chance with the one that got away.