Before Sunset (15)

Jan 31, 2007
Cranbrook Film Society

“My plan B has always been to make a film about people who talk a lot.” – Richard Linklater

“…and all across the great plain of Ireland, the snow was falling, falling upon the living and the dead.” – James Joyce

Tonight’s film is Richard Linklater’s 2004 sequel to ‘Before Sunrise’ which we saw in last year’s season. It is nine years later. Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) meet again in Paris. He is a writer. She is an environmental activist. The cheeks have hollowed, the puppy fat has gone and so have (at least some of) the dreams. The formula is much as before. They wander around Paris, delaying what the disillusion of real adult life has told them must be the inevitable separation. They talk. They round their first corner and an accordion player strikes up, as if the mood of Before Sunrise might be reprised. But the music dies away and they find no strange and charming correspondences this time between the city and their moods (although Henry is four and they arrange a meeting at Henry four – you’ll get it when you see the film).

There is still magic in the film though. If such a thing as ‘chemistry’ on screen exists, then Hawke and Delpy have it. Self regarding and irritating, self consciously ‘clever’, we still really want them to be happy. The lead actors wrote the screenplay with Linklater and some degree of autobiography may be helping to make the film feel so lived. Like his character, over the intervening nine years, Hawke has become a writer and written two novels and Delpy has lived in New York as has Hawke. Delpy, like her character, also spent time in Poland, working with the great director, Krsystof Kieslowski, starring in his ‘Three Colours’ trilogy of films.

As before, the pleasure of the film is in the detail. The film indeed seems self-referential as Celine describes her memories of the flecks of red in Jesse’s beard that it has pained her to remember. Love imprints itself on her indelibly and she wonderfully conveys the fragility behind the breezy self-confidence.

And we will again watch them so closely, as they wander Paris and talk – about work, romantic love, sex, yearning, memory, commitment, compromise, passion, disappointment, writing and the passage of time. We will all have our favourite moments, fleeting momentary gestures, or expressions. Celine’s outstretched hand in the car, Celine’s coy curled finger at her lips. Mine is early in the film when they first sit in the café. Jesse has just given a trite meaningless summation of his current place in the world. Celine then says she’s happy too, and, despite himself, his face falls; a fleeting embarrassment of gormlessness that silently shouts out how his life might really have worked out.

If in the first film what is fascinating is the slips of the tongue, the misunderstandings and their own confusion, here in the sequel it is how they are trying to hide all the things they now know to be true. They talk with mock bravado about their sex lives in the park but Celine, discomfited, cannot quite hold his gaze, her eyes flinching away. Another fleeting expression they half hope that maybe the other did catch. The beauty of the film is how gently, obliquely, they will work their way round to telling the truth.

The film lets itself off the hook once or twice of course. Part of being adult is knowing that choosing happiness for yourself may mean leaving someone else you love inconsolable. But we want to believe, with them, that the iron laws of time and consequences can be suspended. In the final scene Celine is funny and absurd, almost embarrassing. She mimes Nina Simone’s words (who had died not long before the scene was filmed) and apes her gestures. Jesse looks at photographs of Celine as a young girl, of her with her grandmother in middle and in old age. And we remember Jesse’s words at the beginning of the film about time folding in on itself. Like one of Yeats dancers consumed by the flame Celine is an essence of woman, ephemeral and essential. But at this time and in this place Celine knows she is loved.

Obscure literary reference

Linklater likes to set his films within the space of a day as both ‘Before Sunrise’ and ‘Before Sunset’ illustrate. The greatest of all stories set within the scope of a day is James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ set on June 16th 1902. In ‘Before Sunset’ we learn Celine and Jesse first met six months before December 16th, i.e. June 16th.

Richard Linklater | USA | 2004 | 77 minutes | 15