Before Sunset (2004)
Director: Richard Linklater
Writers: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Richard Linklater
Stars: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy
Before Sunset, Richard Linklater’s follow-up to his well-received 1995 date movie Before Sunrise, is to me is the most effectively emotional, wonderfully acted, and masterfully contrived romance in the history of film. In Before Sunrise, having just broken up with his long-time girlfriend (he was dumped), directionless college student Jesse (Ethan Hawke) spends a daylong whirlwind romance with spunky french beauty Celine (Julie Delpy). The film ends on a major cliffhanger, with the young lovers promising to meet each other on a certain day at a certain place in six months. As Before Sunset begins, it’s been 9 years, and Jesse is on a publicity tour for his new novel, This Time, which is a fictionalized account of the night he and Celine spent together almost a decade ago. He stops to do a book signing in Paris, and just before leaving the bookstore he sees Celine, a beautiful vision from the past. Together, they have another day of romance, in which they speak at great length about their their lives and their feelings, and we see it all.
I say that we see all of it because at the moment during Jessie’s book signing when he first sees Celine, we begin to follow them, completely without cuts. The entire film is one extended conversation between these two former lovers, wherein we see that in their time apart the love they shared has not shriveled up, and is more intensely felt than ever. At the moment Jesse first sees Celine he is answering a question about future book ideas, and as he first sets eyes on her, he is in the middle of saying “. . . and it’s obvious to him that time is a lie.” This is significant, to me, because at the moment when he sees her, he is transported back to the way he felt on their first night together. In the moment when they first set eyes on each other, a huge set of powerful and contradictory emotions is written on each of their faces, and these emotions are brought fully by the masterful performances of the two leads.
Hawke and Delpy (who also co-wrote the script along with director Richard Linklater) step into the characters of Celine and Jesse easily, imbuing each with intense emotion. Hawke, as Jesse, spends most of the film staring at Delpy’s Celine, mesmerized by her beauty and absorbed by everything she says. Delpy’s Celine is extremely intelligent and self-possessed, but when Jesse is near her jabbering to himself, she can’t tear herself away. Both characters spend the film trading monologues, each fascinated by everything the other says, and filled with heavy longing. I’ve seen it many times, and I would recommend, when watching the film, watching the face of the character being spoken to rather than the one speaking. The silent emotion on each of their faces is the core of the film.
The emotion constantly spilling onto the characters faces is so obvious that I could not help but feel the same. In one scene, late in the film, when Jesse describes two recurring dreams he has about her, Celine reaches her hand out, almost touching the back of his head, before pulling her hand back, embarrassed. This moment, to me, perfectly describes the relationship of these two star-crossed lovers. He is entirely obsessed with her, she is always on his mind and filling him with love. She in turn is intoxicated with him, and is as devoted to him as he is to her. If I’ve seemed to get a bit flowery and romantic in my language, it is only a consequence of having just re-watched Before Sunset. I whole-heartedly recommend the film, for its intelligence, its acting, and most of all for its flood of emotion.