BEFORE SUNSET (Linklater) 2004  
a brief review by Tony McRae

Film, like language, is a moral medium.  By that I mean that movies convey values, some positive, some not.  My favorite movies illuminate in some way the human condition, and I can watch them over and over and discover things I hadn’t noticed before.  And it doesn’t matter if the movie has lots of action or little action at all.  Whether it’s “Lawrence of Arabia” or “Meet Me in St. Louis" —these movies tell me something about people and about myself.   

Some movies have lots of talk, sometimes too much.  We keep saying—“When is something going to happen?”  I think today’s audiences prefer less talk and more plot, more fast-paced action; rarely do you find a movie in which nothing happens.  (By “nothing” I mean the plot is practically nonexistent.  

In “Before Sunrise” two people, a man and a woman, talk.  That’s it.  They don’t make love, they don’t get robbed or beaten, they’re not menaced or threatened or accosted.  They walk around Paris and talk and listen to each other.  What we do as the viewer is look and listen to them.  Do we get engaged, interested in these two attractive and intelligent—and flawed—people?  Or do we get bored by their talk?  When I saw this movie two people did get bored and left.  Ironically the movie had only five minutes more to run.  

Let me give a little background.  In 1994 Richard Linklater, the director, made a movie about Jesse, an American played by Ethan Hawke, and Celine, a young French woman played by Julie Delpy, who meet on a train and spend the night and early morning walking and talking and eventually making love in Vienna.  Before he gets on a morning train they agree to meet six months later in Vienna.  End of movie--which was titled “Before Sunrise.”  We leave the theater wondering if they will really meet in Vienna in six months.  And what would happen if they did.  

Nine years later Linklater makes the sequel “Before Sunset”--again with the Hawke and Delpy.  Now Jesse is a successful writer who’s in Paris on a book tour.  The two meet and spend the few hours left before Jesse has to get on a plane for the States.  Like the first movie they talk and walk and talk.  About freedom, love, marriage, even the environment.  Sometimes they talk too much, but for the most part I found what they said fascinating.  

Both Hawke and Delpy are very fine and their conversation has the ebb and flow and dynamic of real life.  I would characterize it as morally provocative; we get the sense that they are struggling before our eyes, that they are trying desperately to arrive at a moral decision that will meet the approval of the other.  We the audience may approve or disapprove of them—even of their morals.  For instance, we find out that Jesse is married and has a four-year old son.  And it’s quite obvious that he still has a strong attraction to Celine.  What I like about what Richard Linklater—and Hawke and Delpy—are doing is essentially ignoring us.  They don’t care what we think.  Their concern is exclusively focused on each other.  And that's why the film works.

Rated R for some explicit talk about sex.

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