“Before Sunset” is amazing in all the ways “Before Sunrise” was and then it hits even higher notes. The film is set 9 years after the original. Ethan Hawke’s Jesse has written a best-selling novel, directly inspired by his night with Julie Delpy’s Celine. His book tour takes him to Paris, where his last stop happens to be in Celine’s favorite bookstore. They haven’t seen each other in nearly a decade, but they hit it off again as if their nightlong conversation had never stopped.
It’s a little awkward, sure. They’ve imagined this moment so often, to actually be in each other’s company feels almost “surreal”. But they talk and talk about his book, current French/American relations, cock sucking monks, the pros and cons of consumerism, Nina Simone, about how one should just “be in the moment” yet “desire is the fuel of life”… We learn that Celine is now an environmentalist, “actually doing something” instead of sitting around and bitching about the poor state of the world.
Their thoughts about philosophy, spirituality, sex, love and life are interesting but, again, it’s not the words that make the film so extraordinary. It’s what’s not being said yet can be intensely felt from Jesse and Celine’s body language, from the looks they exchange, the playful mockeries…
One particular way in which this unconventional sequel is superior to the original is in how it’s even more urgent. Celine and Jesse don’t even have a night to share this time, they only have less than a couple of hours before he has to go catch his plane back to the United States. The story takes place in real time, never cutting away from the two as they walk around Paris. The film is all in long takes, giving Hawke and Delpy plenty of room to do their thing. And I must say, this is some fantastic acting – or is it even acting? I don’t know if they’re friends in real life or what, but they’re incredibly natural and lovable together.
Paris before sunset is a gorgeous backdrop, there are some laughs, some tears, a wonderful song that will probably send you straight to the record store to get Julie Delpy’s CD, and an absolutely perfect ending.