Ten years ago, Richard Linklater told a romantic little story about a whirlwind relationship between an American boy and a French girl. They met on the train. It was his last day in Europe. Out of money, he thought he’d spend the night walking around the streets of Vienna, and she decided to join him. It was a magical night full of lively, frank, and interesting conversation.
Toward dawn, they acknowledged that a long-distance relationship would be a bad idea; it wouldn’t be as magical as sharing this single, finite, night together. But in the end, love won out and they promised to meet again in Vienna in 6 months’ time.
Fans have been waiting 10 years to see if either of them showed up in Vienna later that year. I didn’t think either would actually make the trip. But Linklater, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke have decided differently.
My Coffee with Jesse
R for language, sexual references
Jesse (Hawke) opens the movie in a little bookstore in Paris. He’s on tour, promoting his first book, a fictional story about a man and a woman who meet for one night in Vienna and talk about life. His book has a cliffhanger ending, with the two main characters promising to return in six months’ time. Behind the tiny crowd of readers and critics is Celine (Delpy), whom Jesse hasn’t seen in ten years. (I won’t reveal exactly what happened; suffice it to say that they did not meet at the appointed time, and it’s been haunting them ever since.)
It’s Jesse’s last night in Europe before he has to fly home, but he has 80 minutes to spare to reacquaint himself with Celine. Unlike the first film, Before Sunset takes place in real time. The couple talk as they wander from the bookstore to a café, down the back streets of Paris. They take a short ride on one of the “tourist” boats, then meet up with his chauffeur, who drives Celine home.
Like the first movie, Before Sunset is all about the dialogue. It’s hard to even call it dialogue because it all takes place in real time. “Conversation” seems a more appropriate word. Think My Dinner with Andre, but with better looking stars in a more photogenic surrounding. Hawke and Delpy give great performances, both slipping naturally into their roles, which makes sense when you consider that they co-wrote the script with Linklater.
Marketplace of Ideas
As with Before Sunrise, the conversation wanders all over, from the meaning of life, to the surprises and joys of getting older, to their own personal narratives about their lives over the last ten years.
Because the movie takes place in real time, there are some flat or awkward moments in the conversation. These awkward moments say as much about the characters as their strongly stated opinions. It’s nice to see that we don’t just get a “good parts” version like we did in Before Sunrise.
Because the conversation is so long, we really get to see how each character thinks. When they start asking each other about their current relationships (she dates a photographer, he’s married and has a son), you can sense the rhetorical probe looking for any hint of a door ajar. And when they each begin to complain about their current relationships, you can feel the opening of their hearts, the invitation to the other to come inside and rescue them from less-than-true love.
Even if you only take their conversation at face value, there are interesting insights. Jesse says he likes getting older, seeing how his life is taking shape. He loves his son but not his wife; he feels like they run a joint daycare center for one child. He thought the mere act of making a commitment was possibly the same thing as true love. She has been busy doing work for social causes — people talk the talk, but she actually walks the walk, taking small steps to help the disenfranchised or to make a small corner of the world less polluted. She has had bad luck with men: they all say she taught them how to love, but all of them have left her and married someone else.
Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me
Before Sunset is not for all tastes, unfortunately. The younger crowd who saw our preview screening had no idea of the back story and no patience for a movie that is all conversation (kids these days!). But even if you hated the dialogue, there is room to appreciate the “real-time” filmmaking and acting, both of which require great skill.
Before Sunset is a very good movie. It’s a must-see if you’ve seen Before Sunrise, and even if you haven’t, it’s a joy to watch. The sheer novelty of watching a movie that hangs together for 80 minutes, and not just 3 minutes at a time, is a breath of fresh air.
There is some speculation as to whether Delpy, Hawke, and Linklater will make another movie in another decade. If so, I’ll be happy to revisit these characters. It’s nice to check in on old friends, particularly when they’re as engaging and likeable as Celine and Jesse. Will they have a longer relationship? If so, will it kill the magic of their friendship? Check back in 2014 to find out.