Skip to main content

Perfect Couple(t): Before Sunrise & Before Sunset

Last night, reviews of Richard Linklater’s new film Before Midnight were published – after the film’s first screening at the Sundance film festival. And suddenly, on reading nine positive reviews and one negative, this third film in the Before Sunrise, Before Sunset series becomes my most anticipated film of the year. And, given this series' release schedule, perhaps my most anticipated film of the decade?

If Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy reunite for a fourth time, we won’t see Jesse and Celine again until 2022. Below are reproductions of reviews I wrote of the first two films in 2004.

In January 2004, I revisited Before Sunrise for the first time since knowing there was a sequel in the works – nine years after Sunrise was first released in 1995. In September 2004, I wrote two reviews of Before Sunset: the first, a single word; the second, a lengthy discussion. Some thoughts on the upcoming Before Midnight at the end.



 REVIEW: BEFORE SUNRISE (1995), January 2004

 From my review of Lost in Translation:

 I like small movie melodramas that focus on gestures and quiet times which develop slowly and thoughtfully. Better are ones with the sense to know that comedy is a legitimate device to lift them up out of the depths of gravitas and, sometimes, pretentiousness. The ones directed with a sure hand and filled with flawless performances are greater still. And, thus, rare. Lost in Translation is all of that, perfectly executed.

 Before Sunrise is Lost in Translation’s verbose younger brother. It’s untethered by marriage or commitment or grand personal drama. It’s free to quote, philosophize, wax lyrical and spin shit. But it is directed with a sure hand and does, at its centre, contain flawless performances.

 Richard Linklater loves dialogue. And chance meetings. A young people. And philosophy. And relishing life and love. It comes through all his movies – Slackers, Dazed and Confused, SubUrbia, Tape, Waking Life, School of Rock. But Before Sunrise (which unfortunately acronyms to BS) is all that in concentrated form.

 Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy meet on a train, they chat and get to know each other and these awkward first moments are probably the least enjoyable parts of the film. I’m not sure whether it perfectly captures a real-life moment when an articulate guy meet a gorgeous woman or if Linklater and his co-screenwriter are just trying too hard.

 Once the characters alight in Vienna, though, the ebb and flow works perfectly. They are both articulate and gorgeous. They are in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, one that neither of them knows very well or at all. (Maybe, like me, they recognise the Ferris Wheel the first kiss on as the one from The Third Man and The Living Daylights.)

 Lost in Translation offers two characters who are lost – in Japan, in themselves and in the world at large. But the fact that Before Sunrise’s two characters impulsively jump off the train together and wander around the city all night just talking reminds us that they are young and aren’t yet under any pressure not to do this kind of thing. It makes the film a really honest look at the passion of youth. 

Occasionally the characters say something that they mean to be profound but come off as silly. But this is the way these things work. They want to impress each other. They are youthful and exuberant and not everything that crosses their mind is fully-formed or even barely thought-out. While everything in Lost in Translation is considered and deliberate, Before Sunrise is off-the-cuff and surprising.

 And ninety-five minutes breezes past in a way that an all-dialogue movie might not do in other hands. There are only two characters in the film who only very occasionally converse or react to other people. And yet they are complex enough – at least in what they say – that they are always interesting to listen to.

 The film is almost ten years old now. I believe it first premiered in Venice in late 1994 and was released in the U.S. in 1995. Is this to suggest that thoughtful, articulate, romantic comedies are only once-in-a-decade event? Perhaps.

 And yet Linklater has recently done what I had once thought unthinkable – he’s made a sequel. Set 10 years after their night in Vienna, the characters bump into each other in Paris where Ethan Hawke’s Jesse is on a publicity tour for his novel. Very advanced sneak previews lean decidedly to it being a good sequel, but perhaps not great. I shall console myself with the thought that even if this follow-up, gracefully titled If Not Now, is imperfect and not as good as the original, perhaps that too is a comment on youthful love – it’s never as perfect as you remember it. It can never quite capture the first time.

 Before Sunrise is shamelessly romantic. It makes me laugh, it makes me cry.


 REVIEW #1: BEFORE SUNSET (2004), September 2004

 Perfection.

REVIEW #2: BEFORE SUNSET (2004), September 2004

 Before Sunset is the third film in the past twelve months that really moved me – shook me on an emotional level. It is almost impossible to fathom that this film, a sequel to the superb 1994 feature Before Sunrise, eclipses both Lost in Translation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind with its insights into love and romance.

 For me, as I said in my first review, this film is perfection. The two stories we have of Jesse and Celine form a wonderful couplet – just as the characters do as well.

 When I first heard that director Richard Linklater and actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy had reunited to make this sequel, I blanched. Not only do I have fond memories of Before Sunrise and an equivalent period in my life, but I think the film holds up brilliantly. This film’s working title was If Not Now – a stronger and more literate title than the more obvious Before Sunset, which seems designed purely for marketing purposes.

 If Not Now intrigued me and scared me. Was Linklater reacting against his turning mainstream with School of Rock? Were he and his actor’s mining one of their most beloved works for an inferior project? The sheer romanticism and ambiguous ending of the original film practically begs that we never know what happened next…

 This from someone who really only sat through Linklater’s interminable Waking Life solely for the Jesse and Celine scene – direct from Linklater’s fevered imagination and not part of their ongoing story. But perhaps a part of their own dreams?

 But word of If Not Now fell upon me just as the film was being shown in Berlin – Linklater nominated for a Best Director Award. Advanced word on the film was good. I even braved a potentially spoiler-filled review at Aint-It-Cool-News to read an early report… thankfully there was one article that was adept at keeping the film’s secrets, while tantalising a fan of the original.

 Critical acclaim has almost been universal. So in recent weeks, between its wide release in the United States two months ago and its arrival in Australia last week, I was becalmed. I wasn’t anxious to know if it worked as a film, if it upset the original, if it got the films wrong. All I waited to see was how I’d react to this sequel that I never dreamed I would ever see – and never really wanted to.

 The actors, the director and the characters have aged nine years – and the films perfectly compliment each other. This is not just an extension of the first film, it is a re-examination of it. With two points of reference in Jesse and Celine’s life we are now able to understand these characters better – both as they are now and what they were then.

 Much of the original film is filled with the enthusiasm of youth – and much of the time the two characters are trying to impress each other. Jesse is clearly concious about not living up to the cliché of the ugly American abroad and Celine tries, with less success, to circumvent the idea that all French women are neurotic and high maintenance. We forgive them their indulgences – of all kinds – because they are being as romantic as we were (when I first saw the film) or wish we had been (when I watch it now).

 Before Sunset illuminates parts of the first film – not just in direct reminiscences and references, but in oblique turns of phrase and the way parts of them are very much the same now as they ever were, despite the nine years of wear and tear on their bodies and souls. This is why I refer to the films as a perfect couplet – they are two halves that exist on their own but transcend the medium when considered together.

 It is difficult to talk about the film in detail without ruining the surprises along the way. For as the first film was about the anticipation of first meeting, coupled with a sense of desperation that it would soon be over, this is merely another hour in their lives – in which you must experience it as they experience it. Perhaps with Before Sunrise fresh in your mind or maybe with just the hint of recollection – see how well you remember nine years ago and match yourself with this couple and their differing memories of that night in Vienna.

 Parts of this film made me immensely sad – youth and passion and romance are fleeting. The world moves on – and not just for these two characters. Jesse and Celine have found more distinct places in the world now, reacting to and against the current political and social climate of a Western World that works differently than it did nine years ago. It makes me remember the early 90s fondly, like a baby boomer remembers the 50s.

 Parts of this film made me joyous – serendipity is often overused in romantic comedies and dramas to make fate seem divine. Before Sunset puts the idea in perspective – there are times when coincidence does figure in our lives, but just as often the way we act determines an outcome. Did Jesse really write his book about that night in Vienna in an attempt to find Celine?

 Parts of this film I still have difficulty talking about. The real-time scenario, the perfect but realistic dialogue, the passions, beliefs and ideals of these characters were so easily identified with. Twice I took a sharp, deep breath in reaction to moments in the film – one as Jesse first sets eyes on Celine for the time in Paris and once more when I knew this brief encounter was over for maybe another nine years…

 Richard Linklater has hinted that he will revisit Jesse and Celine again in the future. In essence, even the idea tempts fate. But maybe that would be right – as it is what Jesse and Celine have always done.


  BEFORE MIDNIGHT (2013)

 Just as Sunset tempted fate, trying to fashion a sequel to a film with Sunrise’s beautifully ambiguous, romantic ending, Midnight must follow a more complex and complicated conclusion. Some of the early reviews give details about where Jesse and Celine are at in their lives now, but I leave it to your discretion to find those reviews and read them. As always, the Hollywood Reporter says a bit too much. And it’s The Guardian’s review that is the sole negative voice, so far.

 After Sunset, I knew a third film in this series was inevitable. What little I know about the third film makes it sound like Hawke, Delpy and Linklater have found another evening in Jesse and Celine’s lives where it’s time they take stock, talk about themselves and the world and how they fit.

 It’s one thing to be excited for the new Iron Man film, a year after The Avengers. It’s another to be thrilled to return to JJ Abrams Star Trek universe after four years.

 But to meet this couple again, this time in Greece, nine years after we’ve last seen them and eighteen years after they first met and we first met them, is both thrilling and scary. What if they aren’t the same as when we last saw them? What if we don’t like the people they’ve become? What if meeting them one more time is not so much a mistake, but a disappointment?

 But what if, yet again, it’s perfection? And if not... can’t we forgive, after all these years, a perfect couple(t)’s little faults?

 Before Midnight will be released everywhere some time this year.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

You are far away: Agent Cooper and his troubling return to Twin Peaks

“What year is this?” Dale Cooper asks in the final scene of Twin Peaks: The Return , the last of many unanswered questions left as the 18-part feature film concluded a week ago. It’s far from the first time we’ve seen someone who looks like Dale Cooper lost for answers over recent months. But it might be the first time we have definitive proof that he’s in over his head. Mr C, Dale Cooper’s doppelganger, who was first seen in the original series’ finale back in 1991, returned to the town of Twin Peaks with a goal in mind. Mr C was flexible, though. He had to be; he’d set so many things in motion over twenty-five years, if he’d remained fixated, he would never have come as far as he did. Dougie, Dale Cooper’s tulpa – created by and from Mr C, wandered aimlessly through life, but slowly made every life he touched better. Plans change and Dougie changed with them. Slowly but surely, Dougie pieced together Cooper’s past life and became richer for it. Agent Cooper, th

Careful the things you say... Joe Wright’s HANNA & the combination of genres

Once upon a time... I tried to write a film script that melded noir and Grimm’s fairytales, where the femme fatale , clad in a slinky red dress, was also (in a way) Little Red Riding Hood. Where the lover of a hit man discovered his true identity from something hidden under his mattress. Evil (step)mothers, adopted children, hunters, princesses and family fortunes. Noir and fairytales have a lot in common and yet... I had real trouble finding the right tone for the piece. And, in the end, my script read too much like I was trying to get the concept to work, rather than telling a compelling story. Saoirse Ronan as Hanna Joe Wright’s film HANNA , screenplay by Seth Lockhead and David Farr, finds the perfect balance between a high tension thriller and a fairytale coming-of-age story. And travels further into the story of this mysterious girl than the trailer suggests. Going in, I was worried this might be too close to Leon or La Femme Nikita – the original films of which I t

REVIEW: SLUT by Patricia Cornelius

Laura Jane Turner in SLUT  by Patricia Cornelius A man is dead, we’re told. A good man. A man with a job. Not a drunk. Not homeless. He’s a hero really. Just wanted to help Lolita and now he’s dead. We’re told this story – this anecdote – by a trio of young women, friends of Lolita, who have known her from a very young age. In fact, there’s some question about who knew her better and who knew her the longest. Because the better they knew Lolita, the better they might understand her. And the more they understand her, the more righteously they can pass judgement. Lolita was a carefree child. Used to love riding a bike. Ride it fast. Feel the ache in her legs and sweat on her face. All she had to worry about was staying on the bike and enjoying her lovely, lovely life. She stopped riding bikes when she was nine-years-old. Her friends tell us that everything changed for Lolita when she turned eight and grew breasts. Huge ones. When she was eight years old. A child with

Earth’s Mightiest Heroes: THE AVENGERS assemble on the big screen

I like superheroes. I grew up with reruns of the 1960s Batman TV series. The Superman films were released when I was really young. The Amazing Spider-Man , Wonder Woman and The Incredible Hulk were nighttime TV shows. And one of the defining motion picture releases of my teenage years was Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989. I was never a big comic book reader as a kid – I’ve probably read more comic books, uh, graphic novels in the last ten years than any time before that. But superheroes were always very cool. And Burton’s Batman took my favourite superhero very seriously. Well, until Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins appeared – taking it ultra-seriously and much darker than I’d ever hoped for. As a non-comic reader, I find it hard to align myself as a DC ( Batman , Superman , Wonder Woman ) or Marvel Universe ( Spider-Man , X-Men , The Avengers and its consitutent parts) person. They appeal to different parts of my brain. In effect, DC’s superheroes are often lone warrior

REVIEW: And Then She Became A Chair by Michelle Myers

  Michelle Myers in And Then She Became A Chair A woman emerges from the darkness, head covered, moving slowly, weighted bags are attached to her dress and drag along the ground behind her. She is in a waiting room. A doctor’s office. A hospice. Inside a commercial begging her to start a new life in Queensland. This is purgatory. Michelle Myer’s one-woman performance, And Then She Became A Chair , is an unsettling, confronting and poetic study in grief. We watch as a woman deals with the inevitable death of her mother, remembering absurd moments of her life, of their lives, in the years, weeks and days leading up to… C.S. Lewis wrote in A Grief Observed , a reflection on the passing of his wife, “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” And it’s this observation that Michelle explores in this work – grief being the fear of loss, the fear of the unknown and the fear of what comes next. It’s interesting that the first work of theatre I have seen this year is focused so mu

Walking out... I couldn't do it, could you?

Every so often, I think about walking out of a play, but I can't. I've never done it and I don't think I ever could. I've never walked out of a film, either. It's not in my nature. In the end, I'd rather suffer through the entire thing so I can criticise the entire play, rather than leave halfway and never know if it got any better or any worse. This has come to mind now, not because I wanted to walk out of Terence Malick's big budget experimental film The Tree of Life , but because apparently walk outs are becoming a phenomenon with that particular movie. And in a packed theatre at Cinema Nova last night, the walk outs were notable by their absense when the lights came up at the end. It certainly won't be to everyone's taste. It's very much an impressionistic film that explores grand ideas through mood and beauty, rather than telling a coherent narrative. But, even those moments in the film that were the most challenging on a "need for

Seeing It Again Through New Eyes: Watching Reaction Videos on YouTube

SesskaSays reacts to the Eleventh Doctor's departure on Doctor Who One of the things I’ve missed during lockdown is watching television with other people. I have some close friends that would regularly get together to watch shows, so we could talk through whatever the hell happened on Westworld or unpack everything we feel watching June suffer over and over again on The Handmaid’s Tale . I’m used to watching television alone, too, but there’s nothing quite like having a helping hand or a shoulder to cry on. One of the reasons or excuses I have for watching Twin Peaks countless times is that, over the years, I have introduced a lot of people to the show. I re-watch it because I love it, but I also sit there waiting for their reactions. To the end of season one or the reveal of who killed Laura Palmer. Or the season two finale. And, more recently, to see how they process Part 8 of Twin Peaks: The Return . Back in 2013, after the Game of Thrones episode “The Rains of Castamere”

Streaming/Theatre: Thoughts and feelings on missing an art form

Gillian Anderson in A Streetcar Named Desire at the Young Vic in 2016 I miss theatre. I miss a lot of things but theatre was a weekly fixture in my life. I write plays and I review plays and even if I wasn’t reviewing, watching theatre was always an opportunity to learn more about how theatre worked. And to be entertained. The experience of theatre is ephemeral. A play changes every night. It’s living and breathing. And once it’s gone, it’s gone. And then it turned out the existence of theatre is ephemeral, too. And within a week in March, my thoughts turned from “should I be sitting in a large audience” to “wow, theatres are all closed, I wonder how long this will last”. At the start of the pandemic, I made a pretty conscious decision that I would take time away from playwriting. The world had changed so suddenly and so had my daily life and trying to find the passion and energy for creativity seemed like too much of an extra burden. Fuck all this talk of S

“Fate Will Twist The Both of You”: Twenty Year School Reunion and the party next door...

Twelve months ago, I premiered a short play of mine at The Owl & the Pussycat in Richmond. Titled You Will Be Kissed By Princess Leia , the play was about how you can’t always live up to the dreams you had when you were fifteen years old. It’s definitely the most autobiographical of all my plays, dealing with one character at age 15 and at age 35, interrogating himself about where he’s been and where he’s going. It’s about finding your feet as a kid and finding your comfort zone as an adult. Paul Knox and Tom Carmody, You Will Be Kissed By Princess Leia September, 2011 There was some fun to be had in the fifteen-year-old not understanding references his thirty-five-year old self makes. And some drama in the conflict between how the character had been as a teenager and how he’d wished he’d been. And the show was done in the round in the Owl & the Pussycat’s then-gallery space, as if the crowd was surrounding two kids fighting in the schoolyard. After the show, if

REVIEW: The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde – Ridiculusmus

Oscar Wilde’s 1895 play, The Importance of Being Earnest , is subtitled “A Trivial Comedy for Serious People”. In its satirical way, though, it’s not so trivial at all, even as it appears farcical. Yes, the story is about two men who lie about their identities to get out of numerous obligations, but in his criticism of a certain social strata, Wilde is effectively calling out the people sitting in the audience. And with its clockwork like structure, in some ways it’s really a Serious Comedy for (or about) Trivial People. Back in 2011, the Melbourne Theatre Company produced a star-studded production of the play, with director Simon Phillips recreating his 1988 production, reuniting some of his original cast with some new theatrical stars like Christie Whelan-Browne and Toby Schmitz. This was a gorgeous rendering of the play in full, savouring Wilde’s delicious language and turning up the tension of his finely-tuned plot with some incredible physicality and top-notch performan