Watching "Before Sunset" is like spending time with two friends we haven't seen in a while. Jesse and Celine, as you might remember, met in Vienna, Austria in the 1995 film, "Before Sunrise." They parted ways after spending the evening together, but promised they would meet up six months later, in an "An Affair to Remember" sort of way. We never found out if they saw each other again, yet the ending to that movie was appropriate. Director Richard Linklater explored the idea that people who barely know each other can say things they wouldn't tell their closest friends or family. His movie was about two people who met on a train and found a connection between them.
I'm not married to Uma Thurman anymore. Are you available?
Nine years later, they meet again in Paris. Jesse wrote a book about his experience in Austria, and he's on the final leg of a book-signing tour. Celine shows up at the bookstore. They are ecstatic to see each other again. Did they meet six months later like they promised? The movie reveals that here, then the story moves forward in real time. Jesse has to leave in an hour to go to the airport, so they walk the streets of Paris, stop in a cafe and ride a ferry down the Seine, all the while discussing topics in much the same way they did in Vienna.
The movie is comprised almost entirely of conversation. Much of it was improvised, and Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, as Jesse and Celine, are credited with the screenplay along with Linklater. They discuss a wide array of topics, but they always come back to that night in Vienna, and how 24 hours in each other's company changed them, in both good ways and bad. There's a little bit of resentment coming from Celine. Her recent string of bad luck with relationships can be traced back nine years. In a way, she achieved her romantic peak by being completely open with a guy she'd known for only a few hours. She has never been able to duplicate that feeling since.
Last year, Richard Linklater directed the big studio film "The School of Rock," a movie I didn't care much for. The independent auteur made a name for himself by making Sundance favorites like "Slacker" and the great "Waking Life," and with "Before Sunset," Linklater went back to his roots. He works best when he uses a short time period for his movies, as he did with "Dazed and Confused" and "subUrbia." His other attempt to break the mold, "The Newton Boys," wasn't too well-received by audiences. "Before Sunset" is a return to form.
Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, reprising their roles, create two of the most interesting characters of the year. That interest stems from our familiarity with them. We get an idea of who they are, and in the process, they become more real than many of the action heroes and hopeless romantics we've seen in movies like the lifeless "A Cinderella Story" or the obnoxious "Torque." At 80 minutes, Linklater's ode to spontaneous acting earns high marks for its tightly-structured story and his desire to reintroduce Jesse and Celine to the world.