by Allan Fish
(USA 2004 80m) DVD1/2
Strangers in the night part deux
p Anne Walker McBay d Richard Linklater w Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke ph Lee Daniel ed Sandra Adair m Julie Delpy, Nina Simone, Glover Gill art Baptiste Glaymann
Ethan Hawke (Jesse), Julie Delpy (Céline), Vernon Dobtcheff (publisher agent),
When I first saw Before Sunrise, Richard Linklater’s dreamy romance centring round a chance encounter in Vienna, I was the same age as the protagonists. Jesse was the American guy bumming around Europe on a discount rail card and Céline was a Sorbonne student returning from Hungary to Paris after visiting family. It would have been easy to fall for the finger-of-fate-twisting schematics of Linklater’s film, its inherent simplicity and its charming leads. A film based on the notion of seizing the night, as it were, and letting tomorrow worry for itself. It didn’t make me fall for it, however.
We last saw the couple standing on a platform in Vienna saying goodbye and promising to meet up in six months. We knew they wouldn’t, or rather I assumed they wouldn’t, and in many ways there lay the problem that was, if not rectified, then at least explained by the opening sequence of the sequel. Jesse has published a story based on that night, a fictionalised personal account, and he’s asked at a gathering whether the characters met up six months down the line. Jesse merely replies that it depends on whether you’re a romantic or a cynic, and that was my problem in 1995, I was already somewhat cynical and the romanticism seemed somewhat precious. Nine years on I found myself able to relate a whole lot more because cynicism gnaws at you like piranhas on a corpse. Being cynical in your early twenties is hip, but in one’s thirties fills you with regret so your cynicism catches up with you and makes you wish for something to be hopeful about. You find yourself longing for lost opportunities and, as such, Céline and Jesse’s fears and vanquished dreams seemed all the more real.
In Before Sunset then, unlike many film sequels, what the characters have been through in the interim isn’t what drives the plot forward. The film is too immediate for that as, unlike its predecessor, the events take place in real-time, in an hour or so before he has to catch a plane to his next official signing. Not only the fates are against them, indeed not just movie time, but real time. In the first film Jesse remarked at how their time together seemed pinched, dream time outside of reality. Now there is no dream-time, only a realisation that tempus fugit and they can only do the best with the 70 minutes they and we have. And we should all be able to relate to the loss, as whatever our own experiences, life patterns, histories, ambitions and dreams, we’ve all had those life-changing events where you know you’re at a crossroads and a choice must be made and you feel you can only go with the instinctive roll of the dice. For here’s a film that knows that, though life is a journey, it’s often about standing still and taking it in, where the world does, as Jesse observed in Vienna, stand still.
It’s clear that the characters meant a lot to Linklater, and also to Delpy and Hawke, who contributed to the script with the director. Much has happened to the actors in the interim – Delpy has aged as one might expect, though it’s shocking to see how cadaverous Hawke has become over the years between. They’re so perfect as Jesse and Céline, so natural as to make one think they really were the characters. Just watch the little details of the performance, not least in that open wound of a scene in the back of Jesse’s chauffeured car, where anger gives way to reconciliation. If I recall a single moment in the entire saga, it’s Hawke telling her of the disappointment of his life and, in going from being resentful of him, Delpy nervously puts out her hand to him as if to comfort him, a hand on the shoulder, then withdraws it almost immediately. It encapsulates the pain, the longing and the regret of the entire story. And though the ending may seem rather anti-climactic to some, it’s absolutely perfect, leaving it open-ended as Céline purrs “baby, you’re gonna miss that plane.” Heres to missing planes!