Amid the hoopla over Spiderman and Farenheit 911 there is another film coming out this week that deserves note too. Before Sunset premieres on just twenty screens this Friday. This romantic gem stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy and is directed by Indie legend Richard Linklater. It is a sequel, of sorts, to the 1995 film Before Sunrise, which cast Hawke and Delpy as young travelers who meet in Vienna and share a night of love and revelation. When we last left naïve twenty-somethings, Celine (Delpy) and Jesse (Hawke), they promised to meet again in six months. But did they?
Before Sunset picks up nine years later. Jesse is a best-selling author now, on a last promotional stop in Paris. His book, ironically, is all about that night, and that girl whom he's not heard from since. And because she has seen the advertisements for his bookstore appearance, and wondered if she was the model for the character in his novel, Celine appears. With a few hours until Jesse's plane leaves, he and Celine will walk through the side streets of Paris and talk and catch up with each other. Nothing more. But the conversation is so good, and the tension so great, that we have to know: Are they still in love with each other or not?
And if they are, what will they do about it?
To Richard Linklater, those intriguing questions, and the mystery of what happened to Celine and Jesse in the years in between was offset by the natural fear of wrecking something all three were proud of. "There seems to be this train of thought you've got something [1995's Before Sunrise] it's perfect, leave it alone, that's why it took so long," Linklater says. "But it's not a companion piece, these two films stand alone." Certainly Linklater has had plenty of other projects to choose from. Having made his bones in the Indie world with Dazed and Confused and Slacker, and struck mainstream gold with the Jack Black-starrer School of Rock, Linklater has been busy enough. But when he reunited with Hawke and Delpy in the 2001 film, Waking Life, the off-the-set talk turned to the characters they'd been thinking about since that night in Vienna, and so work on Sunset began.
From the start it was a highly collaborative effort. The three principals are credited with the screenplay and each of the actors was responsible for his or her dialogue. Says Linklater: "The three of us wrote it, we all did, we talked about it for years and then we sat down, the three of us in a room, and worked on a specific outline. Then we went our separate ways for almost a year, rewriting and rewriting stuff. It all wound up being put together on my laptop. But if you did a word count... it was much more them than me."
The film is unusual too in that it is framed in "real time" giving the appearance of one uninterrupted 80-minute conversation between two people, all leading up to a surprising and wonderful final fadeout that leaves the door open for other chapters. But the ease with which a seemingly impromptu conversation takes place belies the fact that every movement, every line and gesture, was plotted out and rehearsed in advance. Shot in fifteen days in Paris, the pieces of the conversation were put together in two-hour chunks of filming time to match the light. Each scene was a challenge for the actors who were, in addition, constantly writing and rehearsing at night after each day's shoot.
Hawke, like Delpy, is a writer and director himself. Known for starring in Training Day and Dead Poets Society, marriage to (and recent separation from) Uma Thurman, he is also a two-time novelist -- much like the character he plays here. "I feel like [playing the part of Jesse is] some kind of alternate parallel universe," Hawke says jokingly. "I've always felt that Jesse was one third me, one third Rick [director Linklater] and one third Julie's fantasy man."
But coming back to the character with the understanding of a more mature person gave Hawke a chance to put his own experiences into the role. "The second film is a lot starker and a lot simpler and by necessity we needed to reach a little deeper. The first was about hope and possibility. The best moment [in Before Sunrise] was the scenes where we weren't even in at the end, where you see all the places we'd been that are empty now. The movie could be any two people, human beings have these amazing moments and then they move on. But in this one there's a fundamental undercurrent that is deeply romantic, it's spinning around the idea that these two people are soul mates, the subtext of the movie is one of romantic destiny which is a deeply romantic idea for me."
Julie Delpy has changed little in the nine years since the first film and is a still stunning French beauty. But the jump cut of seeing a flashback to that night in Jesse's mind, then seeing Celine walk into the bookstore, is one of the film's most amazing special effects. "It makes me laugh when I see myself as a girl of twenty-three, cute and pudgy," Delpy admits, but she also has no problem with how time has changed her. "I don't have a problem with aging, aging is fine with me. The older I look, it means I'm still here!" In addition to being one of the writers of the film, Julie Delpy also contributed several songs. Like her character, Delpy taught herself to play guitar several years ago and was signed to a recording contract after appearing on French TV singing an original work. The climactic moment of the film is built around one of these songs. Finally alone in her apartment with Jesse, Celine sings a haunting waltz to him, a song that's all about him -- in the same way his book is all about her. Separated from each other all this time, it is clear they have not forgotten that night, and it impacted their lives more than either knew until this day. And as we fade out on this chapter, the ending of what happens next is left hanging, keeping open the possibility of more sequels.
"It would be fun to make five of them, from their early 20s to their 70s," says Linklater and that's a possibility the three have talked about. The success of this film makes it possible. Before Sunset is a thought-provoking, beautiful film that works whether you've seen the first one or not. It is a stunning achievement for all three filmmakers, and one of those small, wonderfully intimate movies not to be missed.
Dont't forget to also check out: Before Sunset