Before Sunset (2004): “Memory is a wonderful thing if you don’t have to deal with the past.”

before_sunsetThe second film in Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy, Before Sunset (2004) allows us heartsick viewers to catch up with Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy) again – nine years after their initial romantic encounter in Before Sunrise (1995). Jesse is now a published author, and has been travelling around Europe on a whirlwind book tour. He’s giving a talk on his latest book to excited journalists in a bookshop in Paris, when a mysterious female meets his eye – Céline. After his talk finishes, Jesse only has until 7:30pm to spend time in Paris, until he has to leave for the airport. Jesse wonders if Céline would like to show him around for this short amount of time, roughly 80 minutes, until he has to leave her again. What happened during this nine years that we didn’t get to see? Did they ever catch up after their beautiful evening in Vienna? How that did night impact upon their lives? These questions and more are answered as we watch the two wander around the picturesque streets of Paris.

I have to firstly include a bit of personal reflection here. I loved the first film of this trilogy so much, and when it came to watching this second one, I was slightly wary of having high expectations. However, Before Sunset absolutely met my expectations, even though it was technically more of the same from our two lovebirds. I was initially concerned that the trilogy’s concept would get a bit ‘old’, despite people telling me the exact opposite. But in the film’s world it’s been nine years since we last saw Jesse and Céline, and I totally forgot about the concept itself when they started telling each other about their lives during that extensive gap of time. I’d formed an attachment to these characters after learning so much about them in the first film, and wanted to know what they were up to. Seeing how these characters have changed over time was supremely interesting, and it was satisfying to have my questions about their relationship answered as the time passed.

Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy continue to impress with their respective performances of Jesse and Céline. Jesse has grown up, and is slightly more world-weary rather than the youthfully cynical persona that we saw previously. Hawke consistently portrays Jesse in such a congruent way – the core personality of his character is the essentially the same, but he has developed beliefs and mannerisms over time that are a slight alteration to his youthful performance in 1995. The same can be said for Céline, who Delpy plays with similar mannerisms as her 1995 performance, but an increased layer of neuroticism and cynicism that Céline has developed as a direct result of her experiences with Jesse nine years ago. This aspect of the film was fascinating and I don’t think any lesser actors would be able to pull off nuanced performances such as these.

beforerisennejmenasunset

In my review for Before Sunrise, I noted that although the cinematography was stunning, and the city of Vienna was naturally and unintentionally gorgeous, I didn’t really notice the surrounds because the focus was squarely on the two characters and their interactions with one another. Again, in Before Sunset, Jesse and Céline are in the insanely beautiful city of Paris, and yet the focus isn’t on the city itself. We don’t see the Eiffel Tower, nor the Arc de Triomphe, nor any other famous Paris landmarks – except for a posterior view of Notre Dame as they float past on a river cruise boat. Paris isn’t the focus here, it’s the vehicle for these two characters to meet and learn about one another again whilst sipping coffee at a nice cafe, whilst wandering the picturesque streets, or taking a river cruise down the Seine. It doesn’t really matter exactly where the characters are located, since that’s not really essential to the development of the story. This is a pretty brave choice by director Linklater, as I’m sure some viewers might be surprised and disappointed that they don’t get to see enough of Paris. But, again, the film is not really about that – it’s about Jesse and Céline. The film’s direction is just as simplistic and minimalist as ever, with some sublime tracking shots as the two are walking through the streets. It also goes without saying that the dialogue is excellent.

This film suffers from the same potential disadvantage as the first one – if you don’t like films where the story and drama is established mainly through talking and discussing issues, this probably isn’t for you. But if you love films with the best example of character development you’ll see in ages, this is just plain great.

However, I have to take this moment to discuss something that’s a bit of a spoiler. If you’ve seen this film, please highlight the paragraph below and the spoilers shall appear as if by magic.

The ending to this film is extremely abrupt – it fades out after Jesse has gone up to Céline’s apartment and they’re listening to some Nina Simone (her apartment has some lovely interior desig as well). What happened next?! I know it’s meant to be left to our imagination, and will most likely be addressed in the last film of the trilogy, but I don’t generally deal well with abrupt endings like this, particularly when I’m attached to the characters. I think I actually said “What?! No!” out loud after it ended. This is partially a positive and partially a negative aspect of the film – my sad response is positive because I was loving the film so much that I wanted it to continue, and yet this gave me a pervasive feeling of abandonment and distress that coloured my perception of the film as a whole. At the same time, it was the perfect ending, because it made me want to see more. And whilst we’re still in spoiler town, the angry meltdown that Céline had where she’s attacking Jesse for how he essentially ruined her relationships with other men since their initial encounter was totally heartbreaking and an example of Julie Delpy’s amazing performance in this film.

Spoilers over!

The last film of the trilogy, Before Midnight (2013), is next, and I almost don’t want to watch it because I’m not ready for the story of these characters to be over. That’s how positively I feel about this film, and these characters. During this film it doesn’t feel like you’re watching a movie, it feels like you’re eavesdropping on a particularly interesting and juicy, but also moving and emotionally raw, conversation between two interesting people. Sometimes the middle film in a trilogy isn’t as good as the films that surround it (except for in the Godfather trilogy), but this one met with my expectations that were set up by the first film, and it was fascinating and satisfying to see where the characters had gotten to after nine years. Who knows where they’ll be after the next nine years?

4.5/5
Watch the trailer here.

Watch this film at Amazon!

29 comments

  1. (Talking about spoiler) The ending was so dramatic. I didn’t hate it as much as you though, because I felt it gave us the ending we wanted to see in our heads. Great review. Glad you loved the film as much as I did.

    1. Thanks Alex! 🙂 I didn’t hate quite hate the ending, I just felt extremely blindsided by it, considering the relatively normal ending of the first one. There are definitely a number of ways they could have gone with the ending but ultimately I think this was the right way to go because it keeps us on our toes until the next one!

  2. That’s a good review and I like your way of dealing with spoilers! Don’t worry about the third one, because (spoilers ahead):
    Jesse cake not set in Botswana the third rabbit out of six Celine’s unfortunate flatulence cliffhanger and the shadowy man with the hat Thelonius Monk bizarre electrocution sub-plot.

    1. LOL! Well that didn’t work out like I intended. There were supposed to be spaces between the words. Damn WordPress!
      Oh well. You had to be there.

    2. Haha! That huge spoiler worked on my computer, thanks a lot! I can’t believe they’re going to Botswana in the next one! On the upside, can’t wait to see how Linklater frames that unfortunate flatulence cliffhanger, I bet the cinematography is amazing. (Jokes.)

  3. Thanks for hiding the spoiler! I’m so excited to see this trilogy, and so very glad the second film didn’t disappoint either! Lovely review, Anna. 🙂

    1. Thank you Elina! And you’re welcome, I’m just glad I finally figured out a safe way to talk about spoilers. Expectations are running pretty high for the final film! But with this excellent track record I don’t think they could completely stuff it up.

  4. Because of your review, I rented Before Sunrise and will watch it today! I’ll come back to this review because I don’t want to get ahead of myself. 🙂

    1. Cool! I hope you enjoyed it, would love to hear what you think about it! 🙂

  5. Gosh, this movie’s great too. When Celine begins to have her freak-out in the middle, it’s literally a work of beauty. Such a shame Delpy has never quite been able to break out of the shell this movie created for her and had her stuck in. Good review.

    1. Thanks! 🙂 I found that part so fascinating. You could see that tension boiling up throughout the film and then when it finally came out it was handled exquisitely by Delpy. I’ve only ever seen her in these films and Three Colours: White, but given how great she is in both, I’m really interested to see more of her films.

  6. The story doesn’t have to be over with ‘Midnight’ as you can continue a life with these characters through rewatches. Honestly, I’ve found such gratification from rewatches of this trilogy – noticing things that slipped past me previously, new perspectives etc.It makes for a fresh viewing. I don’t think the ending to ‘Sunset’ is ambiguous at all, ‘Sunrise’ offers a lot more ambiguity, although quite a cheeky nine year tease I suppose 🙂

    1. I honestly can’t wait to rewatch this trilogy after I’ve finished the next one, and pick up the little moments I missed out on, or any potential foreshadowing of later events!

  7. An amazing sequel to an amazing film. This one made me look at the romance genre with an entirely different paradigm… Love the trilogy & the next chapter is my fav of the three. Wonderfully written, Anna.

    1. Thank you! 🙂 And totally agreed! I normally really dislike romantic films but these two so far have changed my appreciation for the genre as well. Can’t wait to see the next one!

  8. My god these movies are god.

    1. They’re amazing! 🙂

  9. That’s the great thing about these movies, you only get a short look into their lives and you want to know more, so can understand your feeling about that ending. I thought it was perfect, because just like the first movie it makes you imagine what would have happened. As I stated before this to me is the perfect trilogy, interested in reading your thoughts on the third one.

    1. I watched the third one last night and absolutely loved it. I’m going to take some time to prepare my thoughts on it because my initial thoughts went something like “Ahhhgbgjksdfhjksfjsjk!”, and that won’t make for a good review!

      1. Hahaha, can completely understand it, but loved the fact that it shows a different phase in a relationship. The acting is amazing again.

  10. Can I confess to a fellow movie blogger that I have never seen Before Sunset?!!! I keep meaning to watch these, gotta see em.

    1. You definitely have to see it! Now that I’ve seen the whole trilogy I absolutely must insist! All of them are pretty much perfect.

      1. Yes gotta check this out and put it on my to-do list like ASAP!

  11. 13mesh · · Reply

    I still listen to the song Julie Deply’s sings at the end of this film. I love all of the Before’s trilogy, but you should really watch Before Midnight. That movie really surpass my expectations! 🙂

    1. And what a beautiful song it was! Julie Delpy has a lovely singing voice. I absolutely loved Before Midnight, I’ll be writing about that one next! 🙂

      1. 13mesh · · Reply

        I agree. Really like her voice too. Oh you are? I won’t miss it, then 🙂

  12. […] up with Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy), nine years after their afternoon together in Before Sunset (2004), and eighteen years after their very first meeting in Before Sunrise (1995). Before […]

  13. […] Before Sunset (2004): “Memory is a wonderful thing if you don’t have to deal with the pa…. […]

  14. […] a giant fan of Linklater’s Before trilogy, I had really high hopes for this one. From the outset, this film promises a lot. The very […]

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