Saturday, December 17, 2011

Before Sunset

Richard Linklater, 2004 (8.2*)
This film was a small, pleasant surprise for me. This one follows Linklater’s Before Sunrise, made nine years earlier with the same actors. In that film, an American traveler, Ethan Hawke, meets a young Frenchwoman from Paris, Julie Delpy, and for at least one night, sparks fly. Yet somehow the film failed to involve me, it just didn’t seem to cut much beneath the surface to let me feel much for the characters, and it was just a two character film.

In this sequel, set nine years later, Hawke is now a published novelist at a book signing at a small Parisian bookstore. After answering a few questions about writing, he spots Delpy off to the side waving at him. You can tell by his face he's both excited and surprised; he wanders over, they very much want to catch up, but Hawke has a flight at the airport and must leave by 7:15 that evening, hence the title. They have to say what they will, and reveal their emotions or hide them, all before sunset. What follows is loose and free examination of what’s been going on in each of their lives and minds since that previous chance meeting. This time, the characters have more passion, more depth, and more chemistry onscreen.

I thought this film was engaging and credible, these are the kinds of relationships in our lives that eventually disturb many of us. The quick ones with lots of chemistry between a couple are who otherwise destined for different geographical locations, at least temporarily. Often they may intend to reuinite but more often do not, and this film makes an honest and easy-going attempt to give us all the same idea – what if we could reunite with a former lover from our past, when our passion was only extinguished by distance and time.

The script, with believable dialogue, was co-written by Linklater and his two stars, which makes me wonder if much of it was improvised; it has that feel. Delpy herself also sings one of her own songs onscreen while playing acoustic guitar, and a couple more on the soundtrack, and they’re not bad – kind of simple and folky like another Marianne Faithful. It seems apparent from the lyrics that she either wrote the song for this film, or as a postscript for the first film. She also gives the better performance here, her character was the more involving with more emotions to show. In fact, this is my favorite performance by Delpy to date.

Linklater often employs a moving camera backing up while the two actors walk forward, following them through the city streets, or even into a river boat. Paris is a beautiful set for a film, and here almost serves as a supporting cast member. This keeps the film from being as static as two people just sitting and talking in a café, which they do briefly, more like My Dinner With Andre, which was boring compared to this film. This story makes us wonder exactly what happened to these characters in the nine year interim, and what will happen in the next two, after this reunion. One of the better screen romances on film, certainly one of the most credible.

This is Linklater’s highest ranked film, currently at #418 on our 2011 update of the Top Ranked 1000 Films on the Net, all polls. His others ranked are Dazed and Confused #530, Waking Life #687, then Before Sunrise #752.


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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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