Cinema Signal:

People Styles at Work:
Making Bad Relationships Good and Good Relationships Better

. "Before Sunset"

In 1995 we were treated to a talkfest between Jesse, an American, and Celine, a French grad student (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) who meet on a Budapest to Vienna train and find that the pathway to their respective hearts was through incessant dialogue. Well, there was a pause or two for some physical stuff, but this is a pair given to analyzing everything from the cosmos to the earth's core, with a purely emotional subtext beating in their respective chests. The bittersweet aftertaste came from Hawke's need to catch a very early flight home ("Before Sunrise"), leaving the incipient romance hanging on a promise to meet again six months later to see if they were really meant for each other.

So, how do you do a sequel 9 years later without resorting to admitting defeat, to a melt-down of nostalgia, to a funeral for forgotten promises? Is there anything here that can come together as a continued romance? Director Richard Linklater, with the writing input of the two stars, devises a framework that brings them together again in Paris, continues their characters, their proclivity to talk, to analyze, to be clever and, ultimately, to paint a picture that will draw audiences worldwide into a parallel universe. This is the talk of renewing a courtship while having it smack you in the face with the errors in judgement made in the intervening years. This is the conceit of Before Sunset.

Jesse has written a romance novel based on his interlude with Celine years before. He's at the end of a booksigning-interview tour answering questions in a Parisian bookstore before his flight home when Celine, having read about his appearance in her hometown, appears. From here, the camera follows the pair as they thread the streets, bistros, parks and alleyways of the famed city.

The interesting transition of the conversation is in how it starts with the broad generalities, the positive components of their lives, the happy face each wants to impress upon the other. But as the afternoon treads on, honesty demands more depth and the masks come off. He, we finally learn, is not just the successful novelist -- he's trapped in a loveless marrieage. She's not a carefree political activist but someone who is damaged internally by disappointments in relationships, where the emotional rubber hits the road.

All of this comes out, perhaps to establish a base line... so that they can end up in Celine's apartment.

All of this can only be as rewarding as the actors are sparkling conversationalists and not just co-authors of the dialogue. In these two, we have a naturalness that effortlessly imparts a response of familiarity, and they take us into their world. The structure of the writing, which is the conversation, is artful and convincing. All it takes is your identification with their romantic play on words and themes to have your attention held to the end of the walk. No one will be surprised that, this time, our boy doesn't care so much about making his plane. It leaves you with the thought that maybe a lesson's been learned.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


The DVD of "Before Sunrise"

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Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy
Talking the day (and 9 years) away

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