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Moriarty Reviews BEFORE SUNSET!!

Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...

I consider BEFORE SUNRISE one of the great gems of the ‘90s, and said as much in one of my infamously unfinished ‘90s lists, a lyrical ode to possibility, and I’ve loved revisiting the movie as the years have passed. When it came out, I was roughly the same age as Jesse and Celine, and I bought into the scenario wholeheartedly. Ethan Hawke was the perfect protagonist, a clever young American abroad, and Julie Delpy was fetching as an equally clever French girl, beautiful but somehow approachable. The evening they spent together, walking and talking their way through Vienna, somehow managed to avoid all the “meet cute” clichés of Hollywood’s romantic cinema. It pulled off the near-impossible, spending a whole film talking without ever feeling talky, and a big part of its enduring charm was the way it left a few key things ambiguous.

When I first heard that Richard Linklater wanted to make a sequel to the film, I was torn. On the one hand, I’ll take pretty much any Linklater I can get at this point. He doesn’t work nearly often enough, and I really only dislike one of his films, THE NEWTON BOYS. Still, any sequel would no doubt answer questions that I’m not sure I wanted answers to. I love talking to other fans of BEFORE SUNRISE and debating two key questions: did Jesse and Celine have sex? And more importantly, did they meet again six months later like they agreed to do?

Last Wednesday, walking across the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, I realized that I was actually nervous to see the results of Linklater’s return to these characters. Settling into my seat in screening room four, I wondered what an unworthy sequel would do to my affection for the original. Would I be able to look at Jesse and Celine the same way? Would I be able to revert to the innocence of the first film by choice? I crossed my fingers and remembered when I saw WAKING LIFE at Sundance in 2001. During that one moment where Jesse and Celine showed up, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. Just seeing them together again, even animated, was a charge, and I made me realize how protective I felt towards them.

I’m pleased to report that all my anxiety was misplaced. This is no typical sequel. This is more akin to the relationship that STOLEN KISSES shares with THE 400 BLOWS. In Truffaut’s timeless Antoine Doinel series, we saw a character grow from a boy to a man, with nine years passing between the first two films, his dreams giving way to bitter reality. Here, Linklater has managed to make a beautiful film that works on its own even as it expands and enriches the meaning of the original. BEFORE SUNSET is a reminder of just how gifted Linklater is. He’s American cinema’s quietest giant, and his enormous gifts are on full display here.

The entire film takes place in real-time, starting with a series of shots of the sun-dappled streets of Paris, locations we’ll see again over the course of the film. Cinematographer Lee Daniels, who basically just shoots Linklater films like BEFORE SUNRISE, DAZED & CONFUSED and SUBURBIA, deserves special mention because of how effortless and naturalistic he makes the entire enterprise feel. It’s magnificent work, one of the best love letters to Paris I’ve ever seen. As the lovely Europop opening tune concludes, we catch up to Jesse at a booksigning, the last stop on his European tour to promote THIS TIME, a book he wrote about that night in Vienna nearly a decade ago. He takes questions from a few reporters about how autobiographical the book is, and about the ambiguous nature of the ending. Jesse counters that the ending is a sort of personality test. “Are you a romantic or a cynic?” It’s a beautiful point, and then Jesse goes on to talk about what he wants to write next, an entire book that takes place in the duration of a single pop song as a man’s mind wanders through moments of his life, set off by something on the radio. As the booksigning ends, Jesse catches sight of Celine, there in the store, hovering at the edge of things. He’s got about two hours before he is supposed to be at the airport for his flight back to America, so he decides to spend that time taking a quick walk with her so they can catch up. And that’s pretty much all the plot there is. This isn’t a film about plot points or story arc, though. It’s a film about the way we change as we get older, the distance between expectation and reality, and the burden of unanswered questions and unexplored possibility. It’s an adult film in the best sense of the term, just as the first one was young in every way.

I love the way Linklater peppers in a few silent flashbacks to the first film right up front so you can get the visual comparison between their faces then and their faces now. Hawke’s face is lean, just this side of gaunt, and weathered, but there’s something perpetually boyish and unguarded about him, especially when he smiles. Delpy is even more luminous now, her college girl baby fat a thing of the past. Experience and time have given her a presence she never had before, and her sad eyes play perfect counterpoint to the innate tease of her smile.

Their conversation is tentative at first, all about the surface of things. What is she doing? How does he enjoy being a writer? How is it to live in Paris? Did he enjoy his book tour? Slowly, though, they circle in on the important question, the one every viewer’s been wondering about since 1994: did either of them show up in Vienna six months later? Well, someone did, someone didn’t, and the reasons and reactions spur a whole flurry of conversation that feels absolutely honest. It’s beautifully written, beautifully played, and it doesn’t rob the first film of any of its charm at all.

Once that’s out of the way, the conversation begins to drift to other topics like aging, America through his eyes and hers, the merits of the process versus the reward of the goal, and the differences between religion and faith. All of this underlines just how smart these two characters really are, and age hasn’t dulled them one bit. It may have stripped away the idealism and, sadly, the optimism a bit, but they’re just as engaging as they were that night in Vienna.

When the finally address the question of whether or not they had sex during that maddening fade-out, it’s like Linklater can’t help but tweak the audience a bit, almost commenting on the debate itself. Jesse remembers it one way, and Celine remembers it another, to his enormous consternation.

Honestly, I think I prefer this of the two films, but maybe that’s because it speaks more directly to who I am in my life at this particular moment. I’m coming up on my 34th birthday and my second wedding anniversary in the next few weeks, and I’m not sure which seems more surreal. I never thought I’d get married, and I certainly didn’t think it would be this great. I never expected to find someone who makes my life better every day, whose love makes me a better person because she is in my life. But I did. And as far as getting older is concerned, I still feel like I’m the same person I was at 24 or even 14. Yes, I have more experience in life, but underneath it all, I’m still the same unchanged me. Celine asks the question in the film, “Do we ever really change?” Like many of the conversations in the film, it sent me searching through my own heart for an answer. Like the protagonist in Jesse’s proposed novel, I spent the duration of this movie adrift in my personal thoughts even as I shared this reunion. You don’t just watch the film... you participate in it, and you get the feeling that it wasn’t just a movie for Hawke or Delpy, either. When Jesse talks about the trouble with his marriage and how he’d put up with anything to be near his son as he gets older, you can’t help but wonder how much of what he says is drawn from his own recent life, especially considering the “written by Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke & Julie Delpy” credit at the start of the film. Even so, what they discuss remains universal, lifting it above some tabloid guessing game. How do people move on? Is it possible to ever really leave love behind? “Memory is a wonderful thing if you don’t have to deal with the past,” Celine says at one point, and this whole film is about finally stopping and dealing with that past, no matter how painful it may be.

The moment that haunts me from the original is the one between the two of them at the record shop as they stand together in the listening booth, wanting to touch each other or kiss or make some sort of contact, neither of them daring to even make eye contact. It makes me ache every time I see it, and I didn’t dare hope there would be a moment of equal power this time. There is, though, and Linklater is smart enough to save it for the ending. This may be one of the best endings I’ve ever seen for a movie, no exaggeration. It builds to an emotional left hook that I never saw coming, and it laid me out. In particular, the final two lines of dialogue are fucking brilliant, restoring the ambiguity of the original in a whole new way, and I found myself laughing through unexpected tears, delighted and delivered by the possibilities still inherent to the resilient human heart.

Warner Independent makes a strong debut as a distributor with this picture, and they’ve managed to pick a small film that feels like a big event, the perfect fit. For anyone weary of CGI and superheroes as the summer wears on, take heart. BEFORE SUNSET is as good a film as you’re likely to see all year long, and is to be treasured.

That’s it for me today, but I’ll be back tomorrow with the DVD Shelf (finally) with the FREAKS & GEEKS contest winners, and later in the week, I’ll have reviews for the new ZATOICHI and a documentary on BUKOWSKI, along with some other goodies. Until then...

"Moriarty" out.





Readers Talkback
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  • May 17, 2004, 12:52 p.m. CST

    I want to see this ASAP

    by Vincent Gecko

    I live in NYC, anyone know how I can catch this way soonish? A release date, info on one of those pre-screenings, heck even a chinatown spot with a pirate copy will do, I have no patience and want to watch this flick yesterday. Also, on an aside does the sequel make any mention of the unpaid bottle they steal/burrow, does that guy ever get paid back or what?

  • May 17, 2004, 1:02 p.m. CST

    Shoot.

    by jointherangers

    I was hoping this was a prequel to Sunset Boulevard.

  • May 18, 2004, 1:58 a.m. CST

    Right on.

    by Tracheotomy Man

    This is about the only movie coming out this year that I'm excited about and can't wait to see. I wasn't sure I wanted to see a sequel, but it's all good. And I've always wondered if he sent the money to the bartender...

  • May 18, 2004, 2:36 a.m. CST

    It better be!!

    by Cash Bailey

    BEFORE SUNRISE is truly special. Nothing less than a perfect, transcendant follow up will suffice.

  • May 18, 2004, 2:39 a.m. CST

    Please screen this movie in Singapore

    by singaporeFAN

    i juz can't wait to see this movie. part 1 was my all-time favorite romance movie. i remember seeing it in 1995 for two days consecutively in the cinema. really like it alot. To the distributor in SG: please dun reject this movie!

  • May 18, 2004, 3:05 a.m. CST

    Linklater's gonna need this reserve geek love...

    by Lazarus Long

    ...when A Scanner Darkly finally hit screens. You have to ask yourself why a guy with this much integrity and talent would allow Keanu Reeves to be cast in his film. Say what you want about Ethan Hawke, but the guy sure tries hard (plus he didn't ruin Gattaca). Reeves was already in one movie that borrowed from PKD (among other sources); isn't doing Scanner a bit repetitious? I'm sure the studio forced Linklater to put some big name in the film, but wasn't anyone else available? I'd rather see Matthew McConaughey at this point. I can only hope that painting animation over Reeves' vacant expressions will still prevent this film from being a disappointment. Too bad there isn't a way to paint over his voice as well. It's sad that other Dick adaptations have featured Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford, Gary Sinise, and noq the film of perhaps his greatest novel gets Keanu. John Woo putting Affleck in Paycheck seemed like the worst it could get--now we know that wasn't true. I'm praying for all of us.

  • May 18, 2004, 4:15 a.m. CST

    great review

    by Cotillion

    Wow Moriarty, I dont write talkbacks often but I just like to tune in this time to say Congrats Man, you still got the touch to write a great review that makes you wanna run out and see the movie without giving too much away. Great Stuff

  • May 18, 2004, 7:32 a.m. CST

    Perhaps

    by Playhouse

    They can continue to visit these characters throughout their lives. Maybe ten-year intervals. It'll be an intimate dissertation on life itself and growth.

  • May 19, 2004, 12:23 a.m. CST

    Happy happy joy joy

    by AkiraKaneda

    My wife of 7+ years and I went to see BEFORE SUNRISE the night I proposed. I was worried sick that this might somehow lessen the impact of it. But from the review (which I must admit I only skimmed to see what his opinion was and a couple key points), I'm going to call out the babysitter and make this a must-see. Thanks, M!

  • May 19, 2004, 4:19 p.m. CST

    Finally a sequel that sounds like it was done for fans not for t

    by cooper2000

    I remember seeing this movie in the theatre and just loving the quietness of it and how beautiful it was to see these two people talk and get to know each other without any sub plots or murders or explosions. But what do you know, people didnt get to see it because it was lost amongst the BIG movies. I am hoping people have found it on DVD and Video and that this movie is marketed so it does good business. Sure Spiderman 2 and all the Blockbusters have their place but so does this one. Now only if they would come out with a Special Edition of the first movie, it would make my Summer. Go see this movie!!!!

  • May 19, 2004, 8:06 p.m. CST

    Great News!

    by Roboteer

    It's so cool when someone else "gets" your most favorite overlooked film. Tremendous review! I would credit the writer rather than Celine and Jesse though (unless they ad-libbed a lot)with one of the most intelligent engaging scripts ever. WAKING LIFE, however, was to me disappointing and full-of-itself except for some of the visual style. SUNRISE is kindof the film the admirable LOST IN TRANSLATION wanted to be. Now a genuine reprise!!!! Hope it comes to a theater near moi.

  • May 20, 2004, 9:28 a.m. CST

    "baby fat"? Delpy is one of the scrawniest actresses working.

    by minderbinder

    If she lost weight since the first, she must be a fucking skeleton.

  • May 21, 2004, 9:23 p.m. CST

    BEFORE SUNRISE was one of the finest films of the decade, true!

    by Bregalad_

    And I wonder about the director. I really do. He doesn't have to do any more to convince us how brilliant he is, but the more he shines with this amazing films the more it seems people ignore him. That's such a fucking shame, ya know? Linklater must sometimes feel like one of those small little voices lost in the wilderness of the crazy Hollywood machine. But his vision is unique...... he has FULL INTERGRITY with his characters (always) -- and Lor' Bless Me, Mr. Frodo, if he isn't due for an Oscar then I don't know which from witch -- if you take my meanin' sir. Breglad out.