REVIEW: “Before Sunset”

BEFORE POSTERIn 1995 writer and director Richard Linklater introduced us to Jesse and Celine, two young twentysomethings who – by one spontaneous act – end up spending one night together roaming the streets of Vienna. The two open themselves up to each other and fall in love. The movie ends with Jesse heading to the airport to catch his flight back to the United States and Celine catching her train to Paris. Both agree to meet back at the same station on a set day five years later but as they go their separate ways they, and we, wonder if they will ever see each other again. That movie was “Before Sunrise”. That’s brings us to 2004 and “Before Sunset”, a sequel directed, produced, and co-written by Linklater that tells us what happened to these two fascinating characters.

Ethan Hawke returns as Jesse and we find him at Shakespeare & Company in Paris doing a signing for his new book. Jesse seems successful. His book has taken off and Paris is the last stop on his European promotional blitz before heading back home in the states to his wife and child. While being interviewed we discover that his new book is based on his romance in Vienna 9 years earlier. We also see in the corner of the bookstore Celine (Julie Delpy). Celine, now living in Paris, had come across the promotion of Jesse’s appearance. After finishing his last interview Jesse sees Celine in the corner and the two meet again. Jesse has a few hours before his flight so they slip out and walk through Paris, catching up, reconnecting, tapping into old feelings, and second guessing their life choices.

“Before Sunset” pretty much follows the same formula as the first film. It’s an extremely talky movie and the two main characters are the centerpiece. We see the awkwardness of them first meeting again and their reflections on their night together and the reunion that was to take place five years afterwards. But it doesn’t take long before we see evidence of the same chemistry that had drawn them so close together before. The conversations flow naturally – at first as if getting to know each other again then later like two soul mates pouring their hearts out – and we never doubt that there is a real connection between these two characters.


In the first film both were young, energetic, and open. But as the movie moved along we found they each had their own worries and insecurities. Jesse took solace in seeing himself as not belonging which in turn gave him a sense of freedom. Nine years later, even with his success as a writer and a wife and child, Jesse still feels as if he doesn’t belong but the byproduct that he once saw as freedom has now become a stranglehold. In the first film Celine was witty, optimistic, and open-minded but yet with her own reservations about things. Nine years later her optimism has turned to pessimism; her open-mindedness has become cynicism and distrust. While she’s still as witty as ever, she has changed the most of the two and it’s clear that she’s wrestling with some overwhelming inner feelings. She’s bitter and forlorn and even a bit neurotic when her emotions get the best of her.

“Before Sunset” isn’t as romantic as “Before Sunrise” but in a very real way it gives the first film a more forceful emotional punch. Their decisions, particularly at the end of the first movie, became life altering choices. Even smaller decisions such as not exchanging phone numbers turned out having monumental effects on the courses of both their lives. This gives the audience several good lessons and points to ponder and Linklater feeds those ideas throughout this film. And while the first film focused on the blossoming of love, this film showed the endurance of love, albeit a now unattainable love. We also see both Jesse and Celine shackled with their own personal and emotional baggage.

There’s a lot to like about this film but like it’s predecessor, the writing is really what makes this movie so special. Linklater once again worked with Kim Krizen to develop the story and Hawke and Delpy both contributed a lot to the screenplay. Like before, you can clearly see the collaborative effort of the four writers in not only creating two fascinating characters but in presenting a large amount of dialogue that we the audience never lose interest in. A lot of that is also due to Hawke and Delpy’s incredible performances. Both are extremely comfortable with the characters and the material and their own influence into the story translates strongly on screen. Also impressive is their ability to handle these long dialogue-soaked takes. There’s an enviable skill in being able to nail a long take. These two performers do it over and over again.

Before 2

In “Before Sunset” Linklater uses Paris instead of Vienna but uses it in a slightly better way. The beauty of Paris isn’t thrown in our faces. Instead it playfully lingers in the background injecting itself at just the right moments (as only the City of Light could do) giving the movie a more romantic feel. It’s not forceful or overdone. The movie was filmed in just 15 days and the very few locations used around the city were perfectly appropriate for the long tracking shots and framed still shots that Linklater incorporates. Another fun and interesting production note – Delpy also wrote and performed three songs for the film.

This is a movie that might not be for everyone. Those unable to withstand long sequences of just two people talking are going to struggle with this picture. But they’re also going to miss out on a fabulous film. The more I think on it, the more I view it and the first movie as inseparable. “Before Sunrise” clearly made the sequel possible but the sequel gave the first movie a real feeling of consequence. These two didn’t just go their separate ways from Vienna. They changed the courses of their lives forever and not necessarily for the better. It doesn’t have the romance of the first film and it’s ending left a little to be desired. But I still find these characters mesmerizing and easy to invest in. Now bring on the third film!



movie_theatre - Phenom 5

Well this is the week where millions and millions of dollars will be spent on fresh roses, boxes of rich chocolates, sparkling diamond jewelry, and expensive fancy dinners all in the name of undying love. Ok, let me reword that. This Thursday is Valentines Day – a day where we guys had better have our wives or girlfriends something nice or the following few weeks will not be very pleasant! In the spirit of this wallet-crushing holiday I thought it would be good to focus this week’s Phenomenal 5 on love. So today I’m listing 5 Phenomenal Movie Romances. These are classic onscreen romances that are equally memorable and romantic. Now with so many big screen romances gracing cinema for all these years I would be a real goof to call this the definitive list. But I have no problems calling these five movie romances absolutely phenomenal.

#5 – Jack and Rose (“Titanic”)


While the first half of James Cameron’s epic sized blockbuster “Titanic” wasn’t nearly as good as the second half, it did set in motion a romance that gave the tearjerker finale some huge emotional pop. Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a poor drifter and Rose (Kate Winslet) is a member of the high society upper class. The two cross paths on the maiden voyage of the British luxury liner Titanic. Obviously they come from opposite ends of the social order but you know the old saying – “opposites attract” yadda yadda yadda. A deep and forbidden love develops between them and Rose’s family are none too happy about it. But all of that takes a back seat when the Titanic strikes an iceberg and begins to sink. At no time does their love shine brighter than in their struggle to survive and you can’t help but be moved by it.

#4 – Jesse and Celine (“Before Sunrise” & “Before Sunset”)


No list like this would be complete without including Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy). These two young lovers first met on a train from Budapest to Vienna in “Before Sunrise”. Jesse convinces Celine to skip her connecting train to Paris and spend the night walking around Vienna with him. A romantic spark is lit and the two seem like true soul mates but at the end of the film they head their separate ways. They cross paths 10 years later in Paris in “Before Sunset” and their lives have taken on many new changes. But as they spend the day walking and talking we quickly learn that spark never went out. It’s such a wonderful but complicated romance and we’ll get to see them 10 years later in this year’s “Before Midnight”. I can’t wait.

#3 – Nathaniel and Cora (“The Last of the Mohicans”)


Underneath the surface of frontier violence and costly war lies an incredible romance that plays a big part in “The Last of the Mohicans”. Cora (Madelenie Stowe) is an English woman who has arrived in the States during The French and Indian War. She’s rescued by Nathaniel (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his adopted father and brother after a Huron war party tries to kill her. Through Nathaniel she learns a different perspective of the war and how it effects the locals. Even more important to the story, the two develop a love for one another that carries them through blood, battlefields, and tragedy. The way this love story is told through this dangerous and violent environment is beautiful and “The Last of the Mohicans” remains one of my all time favorite films.

#2 – Scarlett and Rhett (“Gone with the Wind”)


There may not be a more difficult and sometimes volatile relationship in film than the one shared between Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) and Rhett Butler (Clark Gable). Their fascinating romance takes place during the outbreak of the Civil War. Scarlett is a fiery but spoiled daughter of a plantation owner and Rhett is just the one to tame her…or is he? Rhett is a confident and brash fellow who makes a play for Scarlett. But he’s not her puppet which often times infuriates her. But through their on again/off again relationship there is evidence of a truly passionate love between them. These two take us on a roller coaster ride that’s anything but a soft and tender love story. But it’s without a doubt one of the most mesmerizing romances to ever grace the movies.

#1 – Rick and Ilsa (“Casablanca”)


My favorite movie of all time also happens to feature what I think is the greatest romance in movie history. Humphrey Bogart plays Rick, a club owner in Casablanca during World War 2. His world is turned upside down when Ilsa (played by the stunningly beautiful Ingrid Bergman) reenters his life. We learn the two fell madly in love after first meeting in Paris but circumstances tore them apart. From the first moment their eyes meet again, we know that neither’s feelings have changed. But there are several obstacles keeping them from being together and watching what seems to be an ill-fated romance is simply great cinema. Bogart and Bergman have incredible chemistry and you never doubt their character’s love for each other. This is the quintessential romance in what’s a truly flawless movie.

So those are my five phenomenal movie romances. Now I want to hear your thoughts. What did I miss or where did I go wrong. Take time to comment and share you favorite movie romance.