Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Movie: Before Sunset (2004)

Generally, it’s a bad sign when your own thoughts knock you out of a movie. If some stray notion passing through your head commands your attention more than what’s onscreen, that usually means the movie isn’t doing its job. But every once in a while, it’s an indication of the opposite. Your reaction to what you’re seeing simply overwhelms you. That happened here, during an intense scene in the back of a car between Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke). The two were just talking – that’s pretty much all they do – but I became acutely aware of how suspenseful SUNSET is, how it turns the screws tighter than most thrillers. How long before one of these two says something that they cannot take back – or something that they’ll have to act on?

The characters were introduced in 1995’s BEFORE SUNRISE, the unlikeliest film to spawn a sequel and, as director Richard Linklater is fond of pointing out, the lowest-grossing one. Celine and Jesse meet on a train in Vienna and spontaneously decide to spend Jesse’s last night in Europe together. The film is all about romantic impulse, about being at an age when you’ve stopped expecting magic but still acknowledge its existence. The rambling, self-conscious dialogue between the two is like an incantation, willing that magic to life.

But their reunion did not come off as planned. The characters are older now, their choices no longer charged with possibility. They find themselves in Paris with little more than an hour before Jesse again returns to America. What follows is a flirtation that unfolds in real time, one with stakes so high as to be almost unbearable.

The film’s emotions reach a dizzying high point when Celine reaches out to caress Jesse’s head only to pull away before he notices her. It’s obviously a gesture she’s rehearsed countless times in the nine years since she last saw him, but those nine years have brought enough fear and doubt to hold her back. The blithe spirit who once spent a night in a stranger’s company cannot touch a friend’s skin now.

Linklater and his actors (who contributed to the script) raise the tantalizing prospect of hope conquering regret. They’ve come up with the most perfectly realized ending of the last few years. Even the Paris sunlight seems to be collaborating with them.

Miscellaneous: Link

Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas cook up a DVD commentary track worth listening to ... for Disney?