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BEFORE SUNSET (R) (2004)

Warner Brothers

Official Site

Director: Richard Linklater

Producers: Richard Linklater, Anne Walker-McBay

Written by: Richard Linklater, Kim Krizan, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke

Cast: Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke

 Rating:


1. I enjoy Richard Linklater’s films because his characters talk, and talk, and then talk some more. Being loquacious myself (most writers are), I find movies in which the talk is the action strangely comforting. Here are characters with whom I can identify because they cannot shut up and, better yet, they don’t have to. Linklater’s previous films, such as Slacker, Tape, and Waking Life, use language as much, if not more, than visuals to move their characters through time, space, and emotional transformations. These are not films for movie purists who believe word and image are sworn enemies, for moviegoers seeking crafty camera moves, nor for viewers who lapse into boredom because they think if people are “just talking nothing is happening.” Where this film is concerned, you have to be on board and ready to travel the verbal track because this film is one long conversation.

2. Before Sunset is the sequel to Linklater’s Before Sunrise. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy reprise their roles as Jesse and Celine. In Before Sunrise, they played two college-age students, American and French, who meet on a train, start talking, and don’t stop—a sure sign of affection. The conversation culminates in a night of happy passion in Vienna. They promise to meet there again in 6 months. End of film. Before Sunset picks up exactly 9 years later, and, not coincidentally, exactly 9 years from the release of its precursor in 1995. The reunion in Vienna never materialized. Jesse is now married with children. He has come to Paris to promote his novel, which is based on his long-lost one-night stand. Celine comes to his reading. He has a couple of hours before his plane leaves. They go for coffee, and then they talk, and talk, and talk. They move through Paris and they talk some more. Where the train of this “real time” conversation takes them is what the movie is about.

3. Like many prominent indie directors, Linklater favors stories about people who will not conventionally mature. Ethan Hawke’s adult character in Tape is obsessed with a high school romance. Waking Life was at times like being trapped in a dorm lounge discussing the difference between dreams and reality. Slacker’s marathon talkers are eccentrics pickled in their own obsessions. I myself believe that maturity is overrated—I offer as proof this very review, the product of my sideline gig as an aging movie reviewer, hopelessly addicted to pop culture even in her dotage. Because the protagonists of Before Sunset are older and have had “life experiences” you would think, as many reviews of this film mistakenly have suggested, that these lovers have “grown.” But their lives apart from each other, including lovers, marriage, and kids, do not seem vital to their conversation at all, but mere asides. The purpose of this sequel, which purports to take place in real time, is to eliminate time, erase history, and return the lovers to each other. Perhaps this accounts for the contrived, even pushy feeling of some of the script—Jesse’s marriage is conveniently on the verge of collapse. Celine has no boyfriend waiting in the wings with a gun. What’s to stop these two?

4. This movie was co-written by a woman (Kim Krizan) and Delpy had a hand in the script as well. I had trouble, however, shaking the feeling that the film, while tender, is also quite gendered. Celine is the ultimate neo-hipster girlfriend for the kinds of young men with aspirations to hipness that Ethan Hawke so often seems to play in other films (perhaps this is why his facial hair never seems to grow in—even his goatee is a wannabe). She is thin, blonde, and works at a politically correct job (in an environmental protection agency). Her artistic leanings compliment, but never threaten: He publishes novels for public circulation, she writes songs in her room for private consumption and serves as accidental muse. He married and had children. She has merely had a series of unsatisfying affairs. Last, but certainly not least, however, she is a French native living in a bohemian apartment in Paris—hip by bloodline and by location. Her European cool will rub off on him by association. If she had written a novel about their romance and had met up with Jesse in Detroit, would this movie have had the same cachet? What does he have to offer other than his novel? On one level, this movie embodies the fantasy of the young American writer fortifying himself, getting his European transfusion, the way the Kill Bill films seem like the fantasy of a nerd fortifying himself by combining big blondes with Hong Kong action flicks and spaghetti westerns. Ah, the fountains of youth.

Delpy first appears wearing a quilted jacket, but strips it off as the film goes on to reveal a scanty black halter top held together with a single string, a virtual cut-away outfit. Before Sunset may be seen as an extended lap dance for sensitive, artistic, younger American men. Talk about riding the train...

5. Please don’t let the acerbic comments in section 4 scare you. I felt conflicted about Before Sunset, but ultimately surprised at how touching it is. The first half-hour, in which the reunited lovers have some empty, showy conversation on first reuniting, annoyed me. But as the film continued, the conversation became deeper and more revealing. “That night took something away from me,” says Celine to Jesse, effectively damning the last 9 years of her existence. By the end of the film, despite my reservations about the gender cliches unpeeling before me, I was immersed in the protagonists’ conversation and in their love story. Near the end of the film Celine sings a song she wrote about Jesse to him. It could be a dreadful, sugary moment, but it rings true in the space the lovers’ conversation has made.

The overheated enthusiasm this film currently inspires in critics and moviegoers is less a tribute to its virtues than a sign of how desperately audiences want to see something human onscreen—two people talking, really talking, before they get off together.

—Ellen Whittier

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...


Mike Doughty



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