Early thirty-something American Jesse Wallace is in a Paris bookstore, the last stop on a tour to promote his best selling book, This Time. Although he is vague to reporters about the source material for the book, it is about his chance encounter nine years earlier on June 15-16, 1994 with a Parisienne named Celine, and the memorable and romantic day and evening they spent together in Vienna. At the end of their encounter at the Vienna train station, which is also how the book ends, they, not providing contact information to the other, vowed to meet each other again in exactly six months at that very spot. As the media scrum at the bookstore nears its conclusion, Jesse spots Celine in the crowd, she who only found out about the book when she earlier saw his photograph promoting this public appearance. Much like their previous encounter, Jesse and Celine, who is now an environmental activist, decide to spend time together until he is supposed to catch his flight back to New York, this ... Written by
I had not seen the prequel to this although my date had and she filled me in on many details. While the experience of this film would be enriched by having seen the preceding film first, it certainly stands satisfactorily alone.
In many ways, this reminded me very much of one of my most favorite movies of all time, "My Dinner with André," in which just 2 characters talking comprised the whole movie. In that movie, the friends had been close, drifted apart, and then had a brief reunion at a dinner at which they caught up with what the other had been doing. The two principals, André Gregory and Wallace Shawn, played themselves and each represented one side of a dialectic, say the side of romanticism vs. a conventional reality. "Before Sunset" is parallel in many ways.
At one level we have a romantic story -- two people who'd briefly been lovers nine years before and lost touch meet again. They spend an afternoon together. Will they try to fulfill what they'd started?
At another level, we have the charm of conversation and exploration, of reminiscing, of gradually feeling out and discovery of how much do I have in common with this person now? -- where has this person been? -- what are they capable of now? -- how much freedom of choice do I have, does this other person have -- to make decisions? Etc.
While Celine and Jesse have a capacity for relating and talking, they also have somewhat opposite ways of viewing the world and relationships -- Celine is more cynical and reserved; Jesse is more open to settling for the "not-perfect-but-good-enough."
There are possibly a few people who have not had the personal experiences that at least somewhat relate to the premise in this film -- a relationship in which one wonders, "what would have happened if I'd pursued that relation?" but probably most people have. And the other dilemma, of meeting again that someone but by now being involved in relationships of responsibility -- my family, my children, my present life. What would it do to them if I were to pursue my own happiness at the expense of them? Can I do that? Can I value the chance of my own happiness above theirs? Etc.
The film, fortunately, gives us no answers to these essential questions but it does pose them in a way that makes us consider them.
Delpy and Hawke are given screenwriter credits and I feel sure that they must've contributed a great deal to the feeling of seamless, natural dialogue.
GREAT movie. No movie satisfies everyone, of course, but at the time I wrote this, slightly over 50% of the voters gave it a 10/10. For those of us in that group, it's a great film.
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