Saturday, February 14, 2009

Film for Lovers: Before Sunset

It's past midnight and I'm back at the keyboard again, so you know what that means. That's right! Time to blind you with science- I mean another Valentine's season movie review post. Tonight's post is the fourth and next-to-last of the series, preceded by: Paris, Je T'aime, The Baxter, and Before Sunrise, for the sake of providing links back for any who come across these posts via linking from elsewhere or search engines. (You know you're dying to read all of them. Quite literally, this entire blog is coated with a powerful toxin taken in through the eyes that can only be neutralized by reading everything. You can't say you haven't been warned.)

In following Before Sunrise last time, this time around, we take a look at its sequel, Before Sunset. This time, Linklater wrote the screenplay with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, in a rare case of the lead actors having even more of a direct hand in the development and writing of the characters they play. (Delpy has since had a round in the director's chair herself, writing and directing 2 Days in Paris, a very Woody Allen-esque relationship comedy in which she co-starred with Adam Goldberg.) The 2004 film is set 9 years after the events of the original film, following the exact time lapse since the release of Before Sunrise.

Taking that in mind, should you be disinterested in spoiling the ending of the first film and wondering what becomes of the two characters before seeing Before Sunset, you may want to skip this post. That said, in my discussion of the film itself, I'm going to avoid spoiling anything too much - as I try to in general - as so to further encourage you, dear readers, to give this one a look as well.

In taking inspiration from his night in Vienna with Céline, Jesse writes a somewhat successful novel and finds the last stop of his European book tour in a small corner of Paris. As he speaks with local journalists about the project, we flash back to his night with Céline, connecting the narratives. Three of the journalists represent the viewer's way of interpreting the end of Before Sunrise: a romantic who believes the characters must meet again, a cynic who believes they don't, and one caught in between, who wants to believe in the characters' love but allows realism to hold them back. In this way, the film slyly breaks the fourth wall early on in addressing the first film's fans directly. Céline appears in Jesse's audience at the bookstore, and upon completing his discussion with the journalists and readers, the two are finally reunited.

With a few hours free before Jesse's plane ferries him back to America, he and Céline choose to spend that time catching up. From there, the film returns to the stylistic approach of the original, with the couple separating from "normal" time and entering a world all their own, centered around their wonderful stream-of-consciousness style conversation consuming the rest of the film. Of course, this time they have much less time to spend together than they did in Vienna. In facing those time constraints, their conversation becomes much more personal far more quickly than in Vienna.

The two of them now in their mid-thirties, we first learn again about their politics and work, and see how they've grown and changed in the near-decade since their last encounter. As the afternoon progresses and they confront their impending second heartbreaking parting, they grapple with their feelings for one another and the disillusionment they'd experienced with love in growing older after all the youthful idealism they'd shared together that night in Vienna. That night proved to be a pivotal one in both their lives. At the end of the afternoon, they face difficult decisions with the question of whether or not they'll ever see one another again, regretting never having exchanged contact information in their youthful foolishness.

Where Before Sunrise represented the best of '90s art house filmmaking, Before Sunset does the same for 2000s art house cinema. Between the writing, cinematography, and atmosphere of the films, each retains the distinct feel of the times they were made. Progressing technology certainly made a notable impact as well, with the cameras used in Before Sunset capturing and bringing to life a gorgeous Paris mid-afternoon in ways that couldn't be done quite as effectively a decade prior. The use of natural lighting - the entire film having been shot over 15 days - only helps to accentuate the visuals, as Paris is just as generous a backdrop as Vienna had been, absolutely vibrant and alive. Music plays even more of a role this time around as well, Nina Simone serving as a wonderful subject of conversation late in the film, and the soundtrack sporting three songs by Julie Delpy. (All of which complement the film extremely well and enhance the atmosphere with their addictive French folk charm.)

Ethan Hawke himself has commented on the film's existence, and acknowledged that there was never really any demand for a sequel. They'd simply decided to make one because they felt like it, and wanted to revisit the characters. Frankly, the reasons one could have for making a sequel don't get much better than that - especially if the film's a labor of love as so to avoid falling into the pitfalls many unnecessary sequels do. (And Before Sunset avoids those pitfalls handily.) It's clear from the writing - and the number of elements from their own personal lives invested in their characters - that Hawke and Delpy have poured a lot into these characters. If there're any roles that really define their careers as actors, these characters are undoubtedly those roles. Hawke has also suggested in interviews that there may be a third movie about Jesse and Céline yet.

Before Sunset is another film that fits into my personal categorization system as one that I cannot recommend enough. For personal reasons, I was certainly able to connect to the whole idea of reaching out to somebody through a book, as Jesse did to Céline. And if there's any drawback to the whole film, it's that it's a good forty-ish minutes shorter than Before Sunrise. The pacing and writing are even tighter as a result, the viewer being able to really feel how much less time these characters have together than last time, but it definitely leaves you wanting more. And so I conclude my discussion of these two intertwined films by simply saying that you should absolutely see both of them. They'll leave you blissed out.

Next up? I figure out which film I'm going to write about for the 5th and final post in this series. What could it be? Stay tuned! (This thing's hits seem to have been rising daily as of late, so it seems the whole "blogging more regularly" thing can indeed be good for traffic. Who'd've thunk it?)

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