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Before Sunset

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Before Sunset

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy
Director: Richard Linklater
Rated: R
RunTime: 80 Minutes
Release Date: July 2004
Genres: Comedy, Romance

*Also starring: Vernon Dobtcheff, Diabolo, Albert Delpy, Mariane Plasteig, Marie Pillet, Rodolphe Pauly

Review by Harvey Karten
2½ stars out of 4

Have you ever been on a double date only to discover you're more interested in the couple you're with than in your own friend for the evening? Watching "Before Sunset" is like being on such an event, a talky, 80-minute chat essentially between two people in real time. The chat had better be more interesting because the film depends strictly on the chemistry between Julie Delpy in the role of Celine and Ethan Hawke performing as Jesse. Consider this as good an example as any other of a sequel. "Before Sunrise," also directed by Richard Linklater, introduced us in 1995 to a young American who strikes up a conversation with a fellow train passenger and persuades her to get off in Vienna and share his last night in Europe. In that pic, they spend the entire night talking and falling in love. This time around, they meet serendipitously in Paris and whether they spend the night is likely, though not shown. Instead Linklater, using a script he co-wrote with the two stars, affords us a double date during the day time with Celine and Jesse, who meet at a Shakespeare and Company bookstore reading by Jesse–who has just written a best-seller inspired by his night in ‘95 and is on a whirlwind trip of ten European cities in twelve days. If the film reminds you of Louis Malle's fascinating "My Dinner With Andre" (1981), you're a solid film buff. Malle's film takes place in a restaurant wherein playwright-actor Wallace Shawn has dinner with his old friend and theater director, Andre Gregory. They talk about their philosophies for a couple of hours. "Before Sunset" has at least as much talk but only about what is commonly and incorrectly called "my philosophy" and "your philosophy" and yet is devoid of any references to Heidegger, Spinoza or Kant. Celine and Jesse discuss their own night together in Vienna, using their connection as a jumping-off point for a collegiate bull session about relationships. As they leave the book shop to go for coffee (with Jesse's naively American "let's get a cup of coffee"), later to walk about the area surrounding Notre Dame Cathedral and the Seine and ultimately tp drive to Celine's charming courtyard apartment, we get to see why Paris is called the world's most romantic city. In such an atmosphere their conversation revolves easily around what they'd been doing since they last met–she, an idealist, worked for an environmental group while he devoted his time to writing fiction. Celine has been through a number of failed relationships, wary about starting new ones because she'd been hurt. Nothing new there, though one wonders at first who'd ever dump someone as attractive and smart as she–until she reveals her neuroses. Jesse is married, has a boy named Henry to whom he is dedicated, but is disappointed that the romance with his wife is gone. "We've had sex four times in the last ten years," he states.

Among the revelations is that while Jesse and Celine had planned to meet again in Vienna six months from their first night together, he showed up but she did not. Neither had exchanged phone numbers for some presumably romantic reason (they did not want to have an "ordinary" relationship), with the strange result that while she was studying at NYU and he was living in New York during that time, they had not gotten together. The film was shot in 15 days on a tight budget with dialogue that seems at times improvised. Delpy's a doll but speaks with a clipped accent, but to her credit she is as fluent in English as she is in French. There's something irritating about Hawke, something pinched. He's obviously crazy about this woman and plays around verbally such as when he states that he did not go to Vienna but, after a moment, admits that he was there and she was not. Yet despite his chemistry with Delpy he seems awkward, pinched.

Kirk Honeycut of The Hollywood Reporter calls the movie "hugely of the most wildly romantic movies in ages" which could mean that he fell in love with Ms. Delpy (or Mr. Hawke). I think that if I "doubled" with the couple, I'd be fascinated at first with the woman but given the neuroses her character displays during her seventy-five minutes of screen time (at one point she almost bolted from the car), I'd probably pay more attention to my own date after all.

Copyright © 2004 Harvey Karten

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