The Before series that began with Before Sunrise has continued on with Before Sunset (2004). We find out if Jesse and Celine met up in Vienna again, or if their paths diverged. The premise of this film is that it actually depicts the events of their lives nine years later, allowing for the films to complement each other. Both Jesse and Celine have aged gracefully and we’re able to rejoin their lives again for a day in Paris.
Jesse is now a world-famous author and Celine works for Green Cross (a humanitarian organization). Jesse authored a best-selling novel based on the events of Before Sunrise, and embarked on an European promotional tour with the final stop being in Paris. As Jesse completes his reading, he spots Celine in the crowd. Thus begins another day in the lives of these two, and it’s just as breathtaking as the first was.
While Before Sunrise was filmed in the 1990s, I noted that it was remarkably dated to the 1980s instead. That trend continues with Before Sunset being filmed in the early aughts, but feels like it’s set in the late 1990s. I still didn’t see one trace of anything referring to the Internet (still), despite the dot-com boom clearly having popped in the early 2000s and the World Wide Web being so prevalent, especially after 9/11.
The first thing that Jesse and Celine ask each other about is if either came back to Vienna that December. It eventually comes out that Jesse actually did fly back and tried to find Celine, while Celine was unable to contact Jesse as they never exchanged phone numbers or even last names. Celine’s grandmother actually had died in Prague right before their scheduled meeting, preventing her from making it to Vienna. This missed connection led them to living separate lives. Jesse ended up fathering a child and marrying some wench that makes him profoundly unhappy, while Celine became a serial monogamist that travelled.
Eventually, they figure out that Jesse did indeed see Celine in New York one night – as they were both living in New York at that point in time in the late 1990s. No mention is made of 9/11 though, so the assumption is that both drifted away from New York prior to the Twin Towers’ collapse. What’s supposed to be a journey in time for the viewer is confirmed as Jesse and Celine meander throughout Paris, catching up on each other’s lives, while easily slipping back into that magical zone they experienced in Vienna.
Jesse’s flight back to the States put a ticking clock on this reunion though, and as the deadline approaches – the viewer has an idea of what’s going to happen. The irresistible force of the magnetic personalities Jesse and Celine possess inevitably attracted each other back together. The flight departure time comes and passes and Jesse remains in Paris, while the credits scroll. It’s rather obvious that he decided to stay in Paris with Celine for a hiatus from returning to his wife and son. While we’re supposed to cheer lustily at Jesse and Celine getting together finally, at long last – the premise of the harpy as wife is a bit too convoluted at times. Why would Jesse, the avowed romantic a) write a novel about his night in Vienna with a girl he’s obviously still in love with and b) have his wife be okay with it? No? Just me?
While I rather enjoyed Before Sunset and found it true to real life situations, I still think that the writing and material itself is a bit strained. And yet, it doesn’t matter due to the directing and the superb chemistry & performances given by Delpe and Hawke (again). The dialogue is top-notch, as it has to be for a movie that’s almost entirely about the dialogue besides the naturalistic acting performances that almost convince us that we’re watching a day in the lives of two ordinary people with an extraordinary connection – the spark of love that everybody hopes for.
MPAA Rating: R