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Before Sunset

When Before Sunrise came out in 1995, nobody expected it to spawn a sequel. It was a nice, intimate look at two strangers falling in love over the course of a day. It was notable because these two people truly got to know each other, and the audience shared in the experience. It ended ambiguously, and over the years, the three principals, writer/director Richard Linklater, and stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy intermittently mused about writing a sequel. Apparently, the idea got the better of them, and they tossed around ideas, writing and rewriting, whittling everything down until left with the bare essentials. They wanted to create a sense of naturalness, and capture a sense of spontaneity nearly a decade later when the two would meet again.

Before Sunrise ended with Jesse (Hawke, Taking Lives, Training Day) and Celine (Delpy, Waking Life, Cinemagique) agreeing to meet in six months. Before Sunset picks up in Paris, where Jesse is an established author promoting his new book, partially based on his experiences with Celine. Each has thought of the other often, even as their lives moved on in the meantime. Notably, Jesse is married with one child. The experience of that one night together affected both profoundly, and when Celine appears before Jesse at the bookstore, it gives the two a chance to reconnect. Jesse doesn't have much time before he needs to catch a plane, and the film takes place more or less in real time. It's worth nothing that there isn't much of a plot here. Linklater (School of Rock, Tape), Delpy, and Hawke wrote what amounts to one large conversation.

The filming is pretty interesting, only because of the logistical hurdles. Linklater filmed like Robert Altman, filming Hawke and Delpy for long stretches of time without cutting away. This meant that the two needed to get their lines right as they walked around the streets of Paris for five or six minutes at a time. It's a lot harder than it sounds, especially given the dialogue, which they duo nail. The words flow effortlessly from them. It is so natural that one almost forgets that these are two actors and not two real people. Moreover, the camera causes the viewer to feel like he/she is right there with Jesse and Celine, listening to everything they say.

And they sure talk about a lot. Their conversation starts awkwardly, as both are hesitant and unsure about how to proceed. As time moves on, the two become more comfortable, and they are able to catch up on all the major events of their lives in the intervening years. The most intimate moments come later, as the two discuss how their meeting nine years ago affected their outlook on life and love. They wonder if there is such a thing as true love, and if there is, if it applied to them. It's very personal stuff, and the two run the gamut between moments of happiness, sadness, and faux-anger. Delpy is luminous and Hawke portrays a confidence that's been showing itself more lately. Part of the reason for the appealing performances is that one can see their growth as actors over the past decade. Their characters reflect some of that growth, making them feel even more real. Before Sunset is a great showcase for both of them, and the film leaves another ambiguous ending, so maybe a third film will come about in another nine years.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 20 minutes, Rated R for language and sexual references.

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