Before Sunset is writer/director Richard Linklater’s sequel to his 1995 film Before Sunrise, a slight and occasionally charming story about two twentysomethings, an American boy and a French girl, who meet on a train and proceed to have a brief daylong encounter in picturesque Venice, after which they promise to meet again six years later. It seemed at the time to be an unexpected film from Linklater, who had made his mark with the indie/ anthropological slices of Americana Slackers and Dazed and Confused, but in retrospect it fits nicely into his overall oeuvre of movies about people who like to talk. Still, it had a singular quality and with its romantic mood advanced by verbiage it was like an Eric Rohmer film made by the smartest kid in the dorm.
Before Sunset is more of the same, though more finely honed and — dare one say it? — more mature. It’s also more minimalist than its predecessor, presented as having been filmed in “real time,” which is to say without any time ellipses in the narrative. The story proceeds without any interruptions. As usual with such experiments, there’s a little cheating involved — the events depicted would have had to take at least a couple of hours and the film only runs 80 minutes — but long tracking shots and a little surreptitious editing give things the desired “real time” feel.
The two characters, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), are older if not wiser, but seemingly sadder when they meet again, this time at a Paris bookstore. Jesse is giving a reading from his novel, which just happens to be a fictionalized account of their earlier day together. Neither Jesse nor Celine, it turns out, made the promised rendezvous, though it’s soon clear they both regret it. Each is involved in an unsatisfactory relationship — Jesse is married and has a young son — and once they get past the initial uneasiness of being together again, it becomes apparent that the missed reunion was a missed opportunity. The situation then becomes less a matter of the old flame being rekindled then confronting the fact that it never went out.
The simplicity of the story’s concept is deepened by the veracity of the dialogue, which Linklater wrote with Kim Krizen along with Hawke and Delpy. The script captures the feigns and false starts, the nervous jokes and compulsive confessions of two people attracted to each other but not quite sure how to hook up or even if it’s a good idea.
There’s no getting around that this is a small, talky movie. Yet its talk is more real than any supposed “real time” approximation, and ultimately more moving than many a grander romance.
Opens Friday, July 9, at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main, Royal Oak). Call 248-263-2111.
Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].