It seems like a good idea, every now and again, to revisit movies that you’d loved, way back when – to see whether they’d hold up. In this spirit, I revisited the – still magnificent – “Before Sunset”.
The movie – which takes place in real time, and with some extraordinarily long takes – tells the story of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and the re-kindling of his romance with Celine (Julie Delpy). We meet him at a book signing in a little bookshop in Paris. He’s just published a well-reviewed novel about a copule’s one night stand. The couple had – romantically – agreed to meet again in six months in the train station in Vienna, to see whether the one night stand should be more than that. The meeting never took place.
At the book signing, where he deftly side-steps insistent questions about the extent to which his novel is autobiographical, he notices, standing demurely in a corner, Julie Delpy. She is of course the woman he’d had the one night stand with nine years ago (and the story of the movie nine years before, “Before Sunrise”). They reconnect and, while a driver waits to take him to the airport – back to New York and family and a failed marriage – they meander through the streets of Paris (a sort of cinematic pun for ‘memory lane’) and re-establish the relationship.
“Memory’s a wonderful thing,” she tells him at the beginning of their literal and metaphorical journey through the streets, “if you don’t have to deal with the past.”
The movie explores how people remember and reinterpret, sometimes reinvent the past, the shared moments. But it is in the couple’s ability to deal with the past that opens up their future.
What we, the audience, are priviledged to witness – charmed vouyers all – is the re-emergence of the spark, the extraordinary chemistry of love that simply pushes away the rest of the world (here, symbolised by the waiting driver). The director (Richard Linklater, who also gave us “Me and Orson Welles” and “School of Rock”) lets the romance unfold and is content to simply observe the increasing connectedness of the couple, so that the emotions we feel as an audience are genuine and honest; such a change from, say “War Horse” or “Incredibly Loud and Whatever”, where the director manufactures the emotions we’re meant to feel and shoves them in your face.
This is a rare movie – a movie about love that is neither sentimental nor ‘light comedy’… just gloriously true.