A review of Before Sunset
By Jeanne Doherty, MLIS
I can't tell you how much I hate being late to the party. It makes me crazy with embarrassment that I managed to miss this one, while every right-thinking person in the world trumpeted its many joys. I would give all the cash I possess and a bucket of tears to have seen this the first time on the big screen instead of on my basement television. Since that moment is now passed, all I can do is try to convey just a morsel, a portion of what it felt for me to watch this film, cold basement or no, in the hope that if you were thinking of missing it, you may change your mind.
There are perfectly wonderful movies that are entertaining in an uncomplicated way. They don't leave you with questions, or tap you on the shoulder when you are trying to concentrate on something else, or inspire intense near-physical reactions long after you have gotten through the credits. Before Sunset is not one of those movies. The film is a real-time conversation between the characters--Jesse and Celine--of Before Sunrise, picking up from their parting in a Viennese train station nine years earlier. While I reacted to that first movie with nothing more than mild pleasure and interest, this one hit me like a shot of straight bourbon.
As Jesse and Celine walk through a beautiful twilight in Paris, they reveal themselves in ways that just wouldn't have been possible at 23. It is in the revelation of their pain and regret that the importance of their initial encounter becomes clear. You watch them talking so easily and pleasurably together, and underlying each moment of humor or intellectual playfulness is this weight of missed opportunities. The continued intensity of their connection is a source of happiness for them (also you as a viewer), and perversely, their sadness only adds depth to that pleasure. It only stands to reason. How can you really understand what something means if you don't know what is at stake, what you risk with each choice? This is the lesson that the characters have learned in the intervening years, and watching them thrill to the simple fact that they still are able to reach one another is almost excruciatingly wonderful.
For this, among other reasons, Before Sunset feels as if it is conveying something real. There is nothing mundane about it, but it has the ring of truth. Watching the actors, you can see that their heightened emotional state is not unlike something you have experienced or would experience in a similar situation. The film actually began to pull up and polish off my own time-dulled memories of past moments of desire and excitement, so that when the final moment came, it seemed as if I was feeling it instead of watching it. And let me tell you, I rewound and "felt" it again, and my head has been "rewinding" it ever since.