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Before Sunset (2004)

March 28, 2015
Before Sunset (2004) review
Photo Credit: Before Sunset / Warner International Pictures
After a chance meeting on a train nine years earlier, Jesse and Celine reunite in Before Sunset with an opportunity to catch up on an evening that defined both of their young lives. The former published a novel about their brief intimacy, while the latter committed to her humanitarian efforts and struggled to find meaning in lasting relationships.

In film, a popular yet seemingly unrequited tale is how two people meet and fall in love by happenstance. The characters and circumstances run the gamut of cliches while also remaining monotonous and repetitive. Rather than feeling fulfilled by such movies, their endings are usually painfully ambiguous in leaving the audience to their imagination about whether or not such a chance encounter could have a happily ever after. As the Before series treks the path of storytelling brilliantly, it marvels not only over the chance encounter but its aftermath.

The first installment of Richard Linklater's series shows how you can meet someone when you're least expecting it. This second installment, in both heartbreaking and hopeful detail, shows how much one person can learn from another and love them so deeply even after such a short period of time. Both films are incredibly tender in the way romantic films usually are, but they are also realistic in portraying the buoyant optimistic nature of falling in love, and then the incompatibilities if it doesn't work.

By reuniting, they have to deal with their past and acknowledge what they shared together. Without any way to contact each other, having both failed to meet again in France as they initially planned, both inevitably go in their own directions.

Jesse's heartstrings are still worn so tightly on his optimistic non-confrontational sleeve that disguises itself as an American cynic. Every look atakerd he shares with Celine takes him back to the night where they met. Celine, who plays her emotions closer to the chest, was left in deep loneliness, and couldn't figure out how to proceed in relationships after Jesse. The reunion feels just right as both of them get their feet wet being around each other again. Slowly, their chemistry rekindled and emotions dare to challenge the logic of where they are currently - relationship and job-wise as well as geographically.

Unfortunately, so much time has passed. No matter how well they fit together and how right it seems, life and time is working in a different way against them. Like the first film, there is so much they share of their thoughts on the world, their emotions, and yet fate can't fix the realistic gap their lives are, just like when they were younger.

Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy return with the exquisite and elegant appeal that makes both Jesse and Celine, respectively, perfect for each other - only if time hadn't dealt them a rotten hand. If there are performances I'll forever be shocked that missed the mark with award attention, it's these two. I'm not really sure it gets better than either of them.

Fittingly, Before Sunrise brought on the ascension of a love affair. Before Sunset begins to put to bed some of the hope we had previously. Much like a waltz, the story and performances dance together in perfect harmony. Though the story answers every movie goer's question of What Could Have Been, it does so with a fine balance of idealism and touching heartbreak. The two-person cast, script, and smooth direction of Linklater envelops you from the start. Strangely and wonderfully, the film leaves behind huge, emotional damage in its wake but a beautiful, deeply beloved one.

RATING: ★★★
Have you seen Before Sunset? What did you think?

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