Friday, October 21, 2005

Before Sunrise / Before Sunset

Last night I went to Riverside Studios in Hammersmith to catch a double bill of Richard Linklater's films Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. Both films star Ethan Hawke (Jesse) and Julie Delpy (Celine) and they rank as two of my favorite films of all time.

I haven't seen Before Sunrise in a really long time, the first time I saw it I was about 20 years old, just starting university with my whole life ahead of me. I think thats part of the reason why I loved Jesse and Celine back then, they were young, full of ideas and optimisim, I saw a bit of myself in both of them. They meet on a train, Jesse an American is on his way to Vienna where he is catching a cheap flight home the following day, Celine is on her way back to Paris after visiting her Grandmother in Budapest. After a great conversation on the train, Jesse asks Celine to spend the day with him in Vienna until he has to go home, and we as the audience spy on them as they walk and talk and fall in love in that one night. What interests Linklater the most is people's interaction with each other, and the idea that our existence is defined mainly by our memories more than anything else. At one point Celine says that she thinks heaven exists in the empty spaces between people. We see this in the film as well, the more comfortable the two become with each other, the smaller the space between them becomes. After the two lovers part, we are treated to a shot of each of them sitting alone on their jounrey home remembering that time. The director also takes us back to all the places in the city where they were, now empty and leaves us with our own impressions of that space. Of course, in the end the two decide that they will meet again in 6 months time, but they will not exchange numbers or details, as it would take away from the romantic nature of their encounter. We are left on an ambigious note, do they meet up again or don't they.

This brings us to Before Sunset, which answers that question fairly early on in the film (they did not meet up). It is 9 years later, and Jesse is now a best-selling author who as at a book signing in Paris. The book he has written is a fictionalized account of his night with Celine. She shows up at the book signing (she is now an environmental activist) and the two get reaquainted. Jesse has an about an hour until he has to leave for the airport and the film unravels in real time as the two of them walk through Paris together. This time around both are much more guarded about their emotions, and their conversations to begin with are about general topics (US /French cultural differences for example). Slowly but surely, their past hurts, their fears, their regret over their lost romance is revealed, and they become more and more honest about how they really feel. Again, the two leads here are wonderful, they play their parts in such a natural way that you never think of them as acting their role. Delpy in particular is a revelation, especially in the scene in the back of the taxi where she finally shows her anger and frustration at losing that optimism that we saw in her in the first film. I won't give much away about the ending, but it is both one of the most exhilirating and frustrating endings of any film that I have ever seen. I think I prefer the second film the most, but perhaps thats because now that I am grown up, I can relate more to the way Jesse and Celine are now, much like I did at the time I saw the first movie. It is one of those rare occasions where the sequel enhances and builds on the original. I read somewhere that Linklater, Hawke and Delpy would like to follow these characters in the fuutre at different points in their lives, hopefully that is true, I can't wait to see where Jesse and Celine go from here.


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