Before Sunset picks up nine years after Before Sunrise, where Jesse (Ethan Hawke) is a published author on a book tour to promote the novel he wrote inspired by the night he shared with Celine (Julie Delpy) in Vienna. His book tour has a stop in France, where Celine shows up at Jesse’s author Q&A. Jesse has a couple of hours before he has to be at the airport to catch a flight home to the States, and the two take advantage of what little time they have to catch up.
Like Before Sunrise, Before Sunset revolves around Jesse and Celine’s discussions about life, sex, and love. Deeply profound and sometimes silly, it’s very clear that the chemistry between the two has not dulled one bit since that fateful night in Vienna nine years before. They have more to discuss now, of course. Where their career paths have taken them, the relationships they’ve experienced and how their one night together has affected them, for better and for worst. Despite the positive reviews I had seen, I was a little nervous to watch this. Before Sunrise was magical and I was worried that a sequel would simply be a pale rehash of it, or perhaps the characters and chemistry would feel forced. Thankfully my concerns were unfounded. It was like Hawke and Delpy slipped effortlessly back into character without missing a beat, and incredibly, the dialogue continued to feel natural and improvised (both Hawke and Delpy received writing credits on this film).
While Celine and Jesse have clearly grown up, they both still harbor a spark of their idyllic, younger selves from that night in Vienna, though it seems to be hidden underneath a thin layer of cynicism and unhappiness. There are a lot of questions, a lot of “what if” and “why didn’t we”, and you can tell they’re thinking about those same regrets as they get closer and closer to when Jesse has to depart for the airport. As with Before Sunrise, there is no need for supporting characters as Jesse and Celine make their way through Paris, lost in each other’s company. It’s so difficult to have a movie revolve solely around two people with the main focus being dialogue rather than any real action, but with Linklater’s patient direction, Delpy and Hawke remain intriguing and romantic enough to make such a simple premise captivating.
As they change their methods of transportation, their conversations deepen and their frustrations from the past nine years begin to reveal themselves. They’re flawed people who can’t seem to take that leap, perhaps too worried about what it would mean if they finally did jump into a real relationship. What if they ended up hating each other? What if these brief, passionate moments in time are worth more than a lifetime together? The last thirty minutes of the film is the most engaging, wherein the car ride back to her apartment Celine’s emotions get the better of her and she finally explains to Jesse just how their one night together has ruined her. It’s such a brutally honest scene and Delpy’s performance is mesmerizing as her anger and sadness begin to overwhelm her.
Jesse continues to push the time needed to get to the airport so he can spend a few more minutes with Celine, even though Celine continually reminds him that he’ll miss his flight. He knows it, but the question lingers… does he care? I already knew the answer, but I couldn’t wait to see Jesse reach the same conclusion.
Before Sunset is such a romantic, engaging movie about second chances. It somehow manages to maintain the charm and magic from Before Sunrise, making it a worthy sequel that comes extremely close to maybe even being better than the first film.