This little jewel of a film landed in my post box yesterday, and after piling my small people into their respective beds, I settled down for an evening’s watching. I remembered seeing Before Sunrise but didn’t remember much about it apart from the bare bones of the plot (boy meets girl on train; they spend a romantic night in Vienna and then say goodbye), and that it paired Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, so I wasn’t sure what I getting. Would it be schmaltz? Or something more? Luckily for my evening’s viewing it was so much more: intelligent, funny and engaging.
The film brings Hawke and Delpy together again. They play their original characters, Jessie and Celine, nine years on. This time they meet in Paris; he’s written a novel that thinly disguises their story, she turns up for a reading. The film is one long conversation between the two as they spend an afternoon together before he has to catch a plane home to the States. The script, written by director Richard Linklater and the two actors, is great. It’s natural; it sounds like a conversation any of us might have, with the inconsistencies, pauses, interruptions, anecdotes and reworkings that we all bring to our speech.
Shot in only 15 days, the film follows the two as they walk around Paris, reminisce about their first meeting and fill each other in on the nine years that have passed. He is now married, and a father, she has a boyfriend. As they talk and talk, walk and walk, you start to wonder if he will actually get on that plane. They barely touch, they don’t kiss, so there are no physical clues as to what will happen. You only know in the very last line of the film.
So it’s romantic and it’s suspenseful, but by focusing on the conversation and how two people discover each other through words, it’s not schmaltzy. I like talky films, which is why I like Woody Allen, but this even talkier than any Woody Allen film I’ve seen – probably because it’s only two people and they have a lot to say to each other. To me, their interaction was more romantic precisely because they don’t touch. We are so inured to viewing the physical side of love in films and on TV, that it is almost meaningless. What’s lovely about Before Sunset is how two people give joy and pleasure with words. It’s foreplay in its finest sense.
I guess as a writing/reading/talking person this is why this movie speaks to me. For me it’s far more interesting and pleasurable than watching two actors pretend to hump each other. Or not pretend, as the case may be.
Delpy is astoundingly natural in the role. She tosses lines into the wind, jokes, laughs, teases. She has some long monologues that she delivers with nuance and style. Ethan is also good, but is scarily thin, just short of a cadaver, and when he smiles – which he does a lot – it’s a bit of a rictus. I wanted him to spare me his gums and giggle less. But that’s a minor quibble about what was a delightful film. I hope in about nine years’ time, when the characters and I are all in our forties, they make another film so I can catch up with them again.