In 1995's Before Sunrise, Jesse (Ethan Hawke), an American traveling in Europe, had one night of sex and conversation in Vienna with Celine (Julie Delpy), the French beauty he met on a train. To some, the film was meandering and talky. To others (me included), the film was bliss, a rebel experiment by the two actors and director Richard Linklater (Slacker, School of Rock) to create life as it happens — screw the Hollywood gloss. Before Sunset picks up nine years later. Jesse, now a best-selling author, is giving a reading at a bookstore in Paris. Celine, now an environmental activist, walks in. The conversation continues for ninety minutes, in real time, before Jesse must catch a plane home to his wife and son. Linklater follows the lovers — who had promised to reunite in Vienna in six months and never did — from cafe to park to boat to Celine's apartment. Those who hungered to see more of these two than the glimpse Linklater provided in his animated 2001 film Waking Life will be mesmerized. There is something uniquely unforgettable in the way Linklater, Hawke and Delpy (equal collaborators on the script) find nuance, art and eroticism in words, spoken and unspoken. The actors shine. Hawke is funny and touching as Jesse describes the harsh truths of his seeming success. Delpy likewise shows the toll of diminished expectations on the still-luminous Celine. But in each other's presence, the two rediscover a frisky youthfulness. Delpy scores a tour de force as Celine re-creates a Nina Simone concert that leaves Jesse entranced. You will be, too. Before Sunset casts a spell only a fool would want to break.
From The Archives Issue 329: October 30, 1980