DIRECTED BY Richard Linklater
STARRING Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy
Opens July 30, Cert 15, 80 mins
Released in 1995, Richard Linklater’s Eurodrama Before Sunrise was a charming holiday romance, a post-grunge Brief Encounter. Reuniting the same actors/characters nine years on, this sequel feels more like a Lost In Translation for the Middle Youth generation, with the same tone but higher emotional stakes. First time around, Hawke’s American slacker Jesse was heading for Vienna to fly home, only to be diverted for an overnight wander through the Austrian capital by Delpy’s winsome French student, Celine. Drifting around the city’s picturesque back streets, talking and flirting, they finally agreed to meet there again six months later. A cute, simple, self-contained gem.
So why a Parisian sequel? No reason, besides the chance to tie up loose ends. Both Hawke and Delpy contribute to this screenplay this time, making off-screen parallels hard to ignore. Jesse is now an author, unhappily married with a young family, just as Hawke is now a part-time novelist recently separated from Uma Thurman. Meanwhile, Celine is an engaging kook and surprisingly decent songwriter, much like Delpy herself. Meeting again, both characters appear leaner, sadder, wiser, a shade or two more desperate.
Linklater retains the talkie format of the first film but finesses, it into 80 minutes of ‘real’ time, framing the entire drama as a single strolling conversation through Paris. Some of the dialogue sounds stilted and a little awkward, but no more than most real conversations between semi-strangers. Although tightly scripted and shot over 15 days, the whole enterprise feels improvised on the spot in a single afternoon. In other words, it works a treat, flowing with the naturalistic ease of New Wave masters like Francois Truffaut or Agnes Varda. As with a Swiss watch, you barely see the workings, and everything glides along like silk until the final, unexpected, exquisitely romantic payoff is left hanging in the air like perfume. Before Sunset is a small story, but thoroughly intoxicating.