Before Sunset condenses so much into its 80 minutes of real time that the temptation is to just review it in a tumble of breathless pauses, clauses, and run-on sentences. It’s the counterpart to Before Sunrise, the passage of time turning Jessie (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) wiser yet somehow not wizened. As a couple, they’re skirting what that night in Vienna meant to both of them, struggling to reclaim that feeling of possiblity, before infinite possibility became infinite jest, the wizened voice of experience that lets them savour the moment fighting with the forces of nostalgia, saudade, that makes them know that something has been lost, something ineffable. They now know what they had, all those years ago, was something special – that insouciance of youth, the one that leads you to think that magic moments are dime a dozen, has faded.
Whew. But Before Sunset is that kind of magical movie: simultaneously knowing about the effects of the passage of time and yet optimistic. Jessie and Celine meet at a book reading in Paris, 9 years on, long after they missed their scheduled meeting in Vienna. This time, they’ve settled down – Jessie with a wife and kid, Celine in a long-distance relationship. Yet while they’re possessed of a practical approach towards unhappy relationships and the responsibilities of life, that one night in Vienna remains as a lodestone, a pointer to potential happiness amid the death of a thousand cuts.
In a sense, Before Sunset reminds me of the majesterial love of Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza in Love in the Time of Cholera. It’s fiercely optimistic about love, despite great separations of time and space, yet bittersweet and realistic. It’s the self-knowledge that puts this a cut above any standard rom-com about “one magical meeting”. You watch Serendipity and you go, “well, yes, they were nice together but will they sustain a relationship together in the long run? How would I know, since they hardly ever interact in the movie?” In Before Sunset, all such questions are anticipated and answered. Jessie and Celine know they could be asking for too much in banking on this past chance meeting, and wonder whether it’s realistic to constantly think of that one day instead of looking at the practicalities of life. And yet they know something inside is dying, needs resuscitation.
Even after adding Before Sunrise and Before Sunset together, we only have had a glimpse of some hours in the lives of Jessie and Celine, and yet, and yet, and yet – and yet we know that we have had a glimpse to all the hours that mattered to them in their lives – that, in a sense, they are only alive together. In part, this is Richard Linklater’s excellent direction, framing the stories so naturally that it would seem blasphemous to depict any other part of the lovers’ individual histories. But a large dollop of credit goes to Hawke and Delpy’s chemistry, perhaps the most easy chemistry of any onscreen couple in a long while. Before Sunset is rich with the slight gestures of two people completely comfortable with each other: there’s a moment where Delpy brushes her hand against Hawke and it’s almost erotic in its intensity.
Indeed, the whole film is bathed in a magic-hour glow, as it distils the couple’s lives into that last moment of radiance before night falls. And a special mention has to be made of the pitch-perfect ending, a magical finish that recaptures the spirit of youth and its brimming possibilities. Celine’s dance at the end is a slow, languid moment stop-frozen in time. You know Jessie has a plane to catch. You know – well, you would if you read up on films before you go see them and there’s always one person to tell you about it in every group – that the film runs for 80 minutes and that time is running out for resolution. But Delpy is in no hurry. She’s in command. She’s beckoning. We are on the cusp of something electric, and we will just have to wait.
(Review taken from Delta Sierra Arts)