RETRO REVIEW: Before Sunset (2004)

Theatrical Release Poster – Warner Independent Pictures

The following is a retro review of Before Sunset — Directed by Richard Linklater.

There is a quote in this movie that sort of explains very well the differences between the outlook of Before Sunrise and the worldview of Before Sunset. Very late in the film, Celine tells Jesse that “reality and love are almost contradictory to me.” In Before Sunset, one character has absorbed the romance that another had previously exuded but now is almost absent of. 

Before Sunset takes place nine years after the events of Before Sunrise. Jesse and Celine haven’t seen each other since Celine boarded that train to Paris — one of them showed up when they had planned to, but the other one did not. But in Before Sunset them meeting is not a coincidental meet cute, Celine had planned to go and see Jesse in Paris.

You see, Jesse has written a book about that one night nine years ago, and he is on a book tour throughout Europe to promote his work. His stop in Paris is the last one before he returns to his life in the United States. But then, while answering a question from a journalist, Jesse notices his former lover watching him.

What follows is a walk throughout Paris wherein they talk through all that has happened since then, why only one of them stuck by their arrangement, and what that night ultimately meant to them. Unfortunately, Jesse only has about an hour or so to spend in her company, because his flight out of the continent is due to leave very soon.

“All the warmth was gone.”

In a way, I was very antsy when I watched Before Sunset. A big part of me wanted them to rush into the big questions I had about what had happened, as well as what was truly to blame for the missed meeting that defined two less than spectacular love-lives for Delpy and Hawke’s characters apart from each other. But I think it was designed like that somehow.

I think it was intentional that I got impatient with the characters that were very clearly holding onto some messy, uncomfortable, and unspoken desires and regrets. As I was watching the film, I definitely got the sense that they both were ticking time bombs waiting to go off.

I thought it was especially heartbreaking how you could just sense how Delpy’s character had let go of the romantic sensibilities that she had about her in Before Sunrise. Hawke’s character had absorbed it all, and while they had changed a lot they were still somehow the same. The romanticism and warmth of that one night in Vienna was, for Celine, left in Austria, whereas Jesse clung onto it.

I think Before Sunset was so well-orchestrated. There is absolutely no filler scenes or walks in this film, it is meticulously designed in the same way that Linklater had designed Before Sunrise — only this time around the film is made to represent and work in real time. Their walk in the park absolutely is no walk in the park to shoot and orchestrate, and yet again it comes off so natural and, well, easy. It is very impressive.

Also, somehow the recurring topics and self-referential scenes in Before Sunset are never tedious. Yet again, time is our enemy, but I still feel like there was room for more in this film, even though the ending — and the build-up to the ending (the perfect car scene) — is just so memorable and so perfect.

The car scene, though, is what makes it all work. Delpy and Hawke put on an amazing acting showcase here in a scene that reminded me of the little attempted touches and longing looks of Before Sunrise. Yet whereas much of the content in Before Sunrise always had a bit of hope to it, the emotionally explosive car scene knocks you down and puts pressure on top of you until you are overwhelmed by the weight of it all — the weight of nine years that were spent for purposes that somehow made our former lovers discontent.  

Before Sunset gives our lost lovers a moment with stolen time from another life — a walk through Paris, continued opining about how happy Europeans are or aren’t, and an unlikely second chance at rekindling an unforgotten romance. For me, it seemed to ask, whether or not you can truly relive a moment in time long after it is gone? Is it all water under the bridge, or are lost years unimportant when Cupid strikes back? Although this film is much more mature than the one it is a sequel to, the ending does seem to suggest that our mature selves can still be swept up by the naïve romance of our youth. The boundaries of time do not matter when the spark is back and plans are rescheduled accordingly.

10 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen

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