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Linklater, Hawke and Delpy Still Have Magic Chemistry


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Linklater, Hawke and Delpy Still Have Magic Chemistry

 

by Jeremy Mathews
     
 

“Before Sunset”
Warner Independent
Directed by Richard Linklater
Written by Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy
Produced by Richard Linklater and Anne Walker-McBay
Starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy
Rated R

(out of four)

“A white dress she had on. She was carrying a white parasol. I only saw her for one second. She didn’t see me at all, but I’ll bet a month hasn’t gone by since that I haven’t thought of that girl.” —Bernstein, “Citizen Kane”

Jesse and Celine were young, naive dreamers nine years ago, when they got off a train in Vienna for a magic night of connection and love that most people simply regret missing. Now they realize that it was stupid not to exchange phone numbers, to count on meeting at the same place six months later. The chemistry they had together, they now realize, doesn’t happen often between two humans.

Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunset” is the rarest of sequels—one to a small, lesser known film with characters who are actually worth revisiting. As the first film ended on such an open and poetic note, it was potentially disastrous to reveal the characters’ future. But from start to finish, the sequel is just as exhilarating, just as inspired, just as concerned with the great conflict between the romanticized ideal and cynical realism.

Ethan Hawke and the great French actress Julie Delpy return to their roles with co-writing credits that suggest their strong sense of character. This is a film in which both people talk a lot, and yet there is more beneath the surface. The two display a perfect sexual tension while they test the waters and try to discover where each person is at now, if they still have the romantic magic.

Jesse has written a “fiction” book about his night with Celine, which wasn’t hard because he has never been able to forget it. He says he spent two or three years writing about that one night, and it’s clear that he’s spent much more time recreating it in his mind. He likely wrote his novel partly to get it out of his system and partly for the opportunity to find Celine again. He failed at the former, but succeeds at the latter when his European book tour comes to an end in Paris. While journalists in the Shakespeare and Co. book store badger him about if the story is autobiographical and whether or not the lovers meet in six months (telling would “take the piss” out of the book), he spots her watching through the window and attempts to continue his closing comments, about correlating moments in time, without jumping for joy. He has to get on a plane in a few hours, but insists on going out to coffee and walking around Paris with Celine.

The film deftly handles the question of six-months-later, providing an answer that isn’t overly sentimental or pessimistic—convenient, perhaps, but often in life things happen when we least want them. The characters haven’t betrayed many of the ideals that they held in the previous film. Jesse always thought that Celine would do something cool like work to save the environment, and Celine is pleased to find that Jesse isn’t a “freedom-fries American”

Linklater is one of the most under appreciated filmmakers of his generation. Despite 1991’s “Slacker” being a key work in the current prominence of independent film, he is often lumped with lesser directors without an equal sense of subtle observation to carry through his impeccable dialogue. The super-8 sequence in “Slacker” captured a vibrant lust for life and fun, and the listening booth scene in “Before Sunrise” saw the excited near-couple eye each other cautiously in close quarters in a single, perfect static shot. These are great moments in cinema that go unnoticed because while equally brilliant, they don’t have the attention-grabbing pizzaz of “Pulp Fiction.”

The director here gives Louis Malle’s “My Dinner with André” a run for its money in terms of restraint, and creates a hypnotic 80 minutes of interaction between two actors in very close to real time. He has no fear in simply following his characters into a coffee shop to let them catch up on their life and philosophy. There aren’t a lot of setups or camera movements in the coffee shop, and Linklater’s faith in his characters and dialogue allow a simple series of close-ups to go on for 10 minutes.

Like its predecessor, “Before Sunset” is a film about ideas and communication. The matter of time running out for Jesse’s plane is clearly the thread holding the ideas together, but it’s more important that these two people are speaking with each other about everything going through their minds, not simply the state of their romance. When so many films settle for dialogue in which the characters mope about the sorry state of their love, here are two people actually discussing each other’s feelings.

In “Before Sunrise,” Jesse makes a brief aside about his parents staying together for the good their children when it just made their lives miserable. Without acknowledgment of that comment, “Before Sunset” builds on the theme some more. When Jesse and Celine were young generation Xers, they saw the tragedy of those who lived without passion. Now they’re older, and know what it’s like to settle for things that aren’t perfect.

And yet reminded of their youth, they face a challenge of socially and mentally constructed responsibilities versus their true desires. The magic hasn’t faded, nor has the spark of the first film as the picture fades out on another of Linklater’s brilliant, poetic cinematic moments.

jeremy@red-mag.com

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