Saturday, November 17, 2007

GREAT FILMS: Before Sunset (2004)

Directed by Richard Linklater

When we first saw Jesse and Celine, they'd met on a train, and spontaneously decided to spend the night together in Vienna. This is the plot of the 1995 film Before Sunrise, which is the story of two lovely, fleeting young adults who create their own idea of romance. Throughout the film they talked and talked, but underlying all the talking was a constant yearning to hold each other, to be with each other. So they promise to meet each other at the same train station in six months, where their wondrous relationship will continue and flourish.

Before Sunset
takes place ten years after. They both have gotten older, grittier, and thinner. They've both become embittered by the way their lives have actually turned out, as apposed to their young optimism in the first film. Most important though, we find out that they had never reunited those six months later. Instead, they went on to live their lives--Jesse wrote a book about the romantic night and Celine got a job in the Peace Corps.

The film opens on Jesse in a bookstore in Paris. His book has been published, and this is one of the many stops on a promotional tour. He is feverishly trying to explain the ending to a handful of members in the audience (he leaves out that they never reunite in the book) and as he looks slightly to his right, Celine is there, watching him with a gentle smirk. Flabbergasted, Jesse concludes. They've not seen each other in a decade, but the moment they have seen each other it is like no time has passed. It is like they simply continue the conversation that they'd never finished.

They walk around Paris, ride tourists boats, sit in cafes, Jesse continuously dropping faint flirtations, even though they are both now involved in serious relationships. Ten years before, they were excited kids who couldn't wait to take on life. By this time, they've seen life, and they didn't care for it too much. The two have been haunted by the fact that their greatest romantic relationship was less than ten hours in Vienna. "When you're young, you just believe that there will be many people with whom you connect with," Celine says, "Later in life, you realize that it only happens a few times."

The film builds on conversations like these. They speak endlessly about the disappointing elements in their lives, but they do most of it with a smile, because now they're around each other. Jesse explains that he'd been thinking about Celine the whole ten years. Even driving toward his wedding, he saw a vision of her walking the streets. He has dreams where he sees her, and she's just out of reach.

More than anything, what this film presents is the second chance that most of us don't get an oppurtunity to have. We come in contact with people daily, but there are a few that actually mean something to you. Sometimes you don't realize it until it is far too late. There is such an underlying theme of regret that surrounds the story. Jesse's bad marriage is caving in, and Celine is patronized by dozens of ex-boyfriends getting married. The idea of what would have been is so tantalizing to them, and now they have that chance.

Jesse and Celine are played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. Both seem to embody the characters so fully. Neither take the apparent melodrama too far. A breakdown scene in the backseat of a car could have gone terribly wrong if in the hands of the wrong actors. Instead, we get an incredible balance between pain and overall impatience to be around someone you have longed after for so long. Hawke's scruffiness and Delpy's sad eyes only add to the magnificence of the performances.

Of coarse, it helps that they co-wrote the screenplay with director Richard Linklater. Linklater, mostly known for his light-hearted comedies such as Dazed and Confused and School of Rock, creates something that is very hard: a film both heartbreaking and hopeful. It is by far Linklater's most emotionally jarring film. So many times, the characters are saying things without saying anything. Many times, they say things while trying to express the exact opposite.

The movie is quaint in it's 80 minutes. It is bold to make a film that hinders mostly on dialogue, and fortunately the dialogue in the film is tremendous if not sharp and cutting. The sexual tension between Jesse and Celine continues to build more and more throughout the film, culminates in a breathtaking scene within Celine's apartment in which she performs a "waltz" for him on her acoustic guitar.

The film ends ambiguously, much like the first film. Unlike the first film, though, it does not end with them saying goodbye. We do not know the fate of Jesse and Celine, what they will do in the future. What we do know, is that at the moment of the films denouement, they have successfully succeeded in reuniting the relationship. If it is never able to work out, they at least have this moment in time, in Celine's apartment, where they know that they feel complete happiness.

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