Erik Jaccard looks back on Before Sunset, Linklater’s dream-like second entry into the Julie Delpy-Ethan Hawke trilogy, and wonders if perhaps the film itself is a romantic dreamscape.

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Before Sunset

Dir. Richard Linklater/Screenplay by Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke

The Beginning Part

It’s probably coincidental that two of my favorite ‘romantic’ movies of the last decade happened to be released within months of one another and I guess it’s merely lucky that I get to be involved in a project like Ten Year Ago, which allows me to reflect on both in such a short period of time. Only on fleshing out and finishing what now constitutes the middle and later parts of this piece did I actually realize that it had grown into a kind of twinsy sequel to my March 2014 re-view of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a film which, thinking about it now, shares more than a little in common with the film I take as the subject of this current offering, Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset. Both are films primarily about love, memory, forgetting, and dreams [if you disagree with the dreams part, I’d ask you to consider why it is that the Before films’ central protagonists fit so effortlessly into the extended dream sequence that is Linklater’s Waking Life]. Both ask us to question how and why we come together with certain people, what we make of it when we do, and what it all means. I think it’s possible to see Before Sunset’s quiet interpersonal drama contained within the larger sf kernel of Eternal Sunshine’s conceptual and visual flair, just as it’s possible to see Eternal Sunshine’s daring ‘what if…?’ scenario played out subtly in Before Sunset’s fleeting implication that its two lovers “[aren’t] real anyway…[and are] just characters in [an] old lady’s dream. She’s on her deathbed fantasizing about her youth…”[1] Sure, this is a bit of stretch, and whether what we see is ‘real’ or simply the final neural sparks of a dying human mind is a fun question to ponder, but it’s hardly the point. The point, I guess, is that two very differently conceived and stylized films ultimately meet somehow around the same cluster of vectors, whatever their differences. At the end of the day, I think it’s possible to see them both as honest films about specific, memorable people coming together in a kind of fantastic dream space to negotiate and possibly resolve experiences of loss, regret, and hope. However, as much as I love both well-done sf and romantic drama (why can’t we have more quality hybrids?), the real reason for my devotion to both films, and to Linklater’s Before trilogy more generally, is balance. All of them manage to revel in a sense of wonder and romantic magic without abandoning completely the necessary condition that real romance can’t be all fantasy. Nor, I would add, do they fall back into the trap of abandoning the magic of romance for the sake of the practical or the everyday. Instead, they hold both in a fruitful tension and allow us to glimpse the possibilities and the pitfalls of veering too sharply to either side.

Clearly, then, I’ve no reservations saying up front that Before Sunset, like Eternal Sunshine, and like its trilogy namesakes Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Midnight (2013), remains an odd, wonderful little eccentric wonder of a film, just as it was upon its release in 2004. I say this for the reasons I’ve named above and for others which I will explain below.  I’ve no doubt that there are some—many, even—who find the film’s limited action dull or repetitive, its dialogue tiresome, or its characters unlikeable. If such people disliked the film in 2004, they’ll probably still dislike it now. While I don’t begrudge anyone their opinion, I think reactions like these have a lot to do with how we sometimes forget that life—to which I prefer my art to have some kind of connection—is often built from these raw materials: talking, walking, existing as complex, uneven people who long for things, make mistakes, and have regrets. It’s not a flashy or heroic premise, but then again, as Ethan Hawke’s Jesse explains in the film, most people’s lives are neither of these things. And if I can understand people needing a little action in their lives from time to time, as entertainment and/or escape, I can also understand us needing to reflect on the conditions of our need for escape and entertainment. For my part, I adore the way that Before Sunset allows us to do that by challenging us to be not only comfortable with, but actually interested in, a film that features no car crashes, giant robots, or superheroes, but only—at its most basic level—talking.

For those out of the Before loop, Before Sunset depicts the reunion of Before Sunrise’s young paramours, last seen saying an emotional goodbye on a Vienna train platform after spending a winding, romance-soaked day together on a whim. Determined not to let their relationship peter out prematurely, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy) agree, in the finale of the first film, not to exchange contact details and to instead meet six months later on the same platform. Sunset opens nine years later in a Paris bookshop, where Jesse is performing a reading of his new novel, a fictionalization of that memorable night. When Céline shows up near the end of the reading, the truncated romance is rekindled, and the two wander the streets of Paris, discussing their lives, loves, memories, disappointments, and dreams. Like the first film, nothing much ‘happens’ beyond this and, like the first film, this ‘nothing’ is Before Sunset’s major strength. It takes our conventional attention to ‘plot’ and ‘dramatic action’ and refocuses it on a conversation, tied together by a shared memory, and fused simply by an almost Aristotelian unity of place, time, and purpose. Again, in an era of big-budget blockbusters, it’s worth remarking on how rare it is to have such a ‘small’ film continue to make such a big impact on the cinematic world. That the first small movie has grown into a trilogy of small movies, all similarly driven by collaboration, care, and honest to gosh heart and soul (yes, I said heart and soul), is nothing short of remarkable in our ‘bigger is better’ world.

Because it’s so simple in so many ways, it’s difficult to conceive of a film like Before Sunsetaging per se. While we may one day look back at the first couple decades of the 21st century as the years of the massive adaptation blockbuster and index many of the period’s films in this way, it’s unlikely that we’ll also look back and think about the time as the era of the small, dialogue-driven, chatty romance. Outside of the characters’ stages of life and the actors’ appearances, there is very little to mark any of the Before movies as emblematic of their time. Even the locations to which we are treated all seem in their own way utterly timeless, a fact only further driven home by Before Midnight’s stroll around the Peloponnese. While Before Sunrise could, and probably should, be linked to the boom in independent filmmaking in the mid-1990s, no such thing can be said of Before Sunset or its sequel. In fact, as all three of the film’s co-writers have said on numerous occasions, the only remarkable thing about the appearance of the film in 2004 is that it was allowed to happen at all.

While I initially toyed with the idea of examining the film in terms of its filmic merits and so forth, much of what follows is very personal to me. In some ways it takes much of what remained abstract about my re-view of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and personalizes it. Part of this is just how I operate in this context, while part is that there is really no way to separate my experience of the movie from my experience of my own life. Some films have this effect on you, some don’t. This one did. So while I won’t apologize for that, I will make the caveat up front. That said, here’s the rest.

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The Second Part, in which I explain the personal stuff and try for a comparison

In order to really get at what I thought of Before Sunset in 2004, not to mention what I thought of it this time around, it’s necessary to provide a little backstory on how I first encountered its predecessor. I watched Before Sunrise on VHS sometime in the summer of 1999, only a couple months after returning from a six month solo backpacking trip around Europe, during which time I’d had the usual adventures, made new friends, partied a lot, and enjoyed living in a small and self-sufficient bubble of my own making, entirely removed from practical concerns or responsibility. It’s hard to overstate how profoundly that half-year affected my twenty-year-old self. That trip, along with a few other scattered moments in my twenties (all related to traveling), was one of the few times where living and dreaming seemed most similar, where practicality and desire were able to coexist productively without any annoying ‘real’ intrusions. All I had to do was wake up each morning (often in a new place), figure out which cool thing I was going to do or what amazing thing I was going to see, and see or do those things. In between, I got to mix and mingle with other young folks, talk about and read lots of books, ride on trains, flirt with girls, and generally exist free of worry about the future. While I occasionally considered what would happen ‘when I got back home,’ the quotidian concerns of my old life retreated from view to the point that my ‘real life’ all began to seem like so much blurry photography glimpsed out the back window of a speeding car.

What mattered was the now and the now was a mostly ideal dream in which I could control everything. No, the trip wasn’t always perfect, and was in fact very lonely sometimes. All the same, it was as close as I’d ever come to feeling really free at that point. Reading through my amateurish journal entries, it’s clear I’d started to idealize the experience before it was even over, nostalgically elevating it to the status of ‘that moment which I can never again have.’ And by the time I got back I was bummed. By way of keeping the moment alive, I talked about it all the time and began writing bad short stories set in cities or towns I’d adored (Barcelona, Prague, and especially the south Bohemian Czech town of Český Krumlov), populated by characters I hoped would sound like they were straight out of early F. Scott Fitzgerald. I even selected an unofficial epigraph for the trip, borrowed from the finale to Fitzgerald’s 1922 short story “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz”: “Everybody’s youth is a dream, a form of chemical madness.” Looking back at it now, I can see that my pose was much more Peter Pan than it was Amory Blaine: I didn’t want to grow up, and branding myself as a kind of righteous ‘romantic egotist’ (as Blaine fashions himself in Fitzgerald’sThis Side of Paradise) was one of the ways I went about avoiding the adult world and keeping my youthful dreams clutched tightly to my chest.

If you’ve seen Before Sunrise, you can probably gather what I found so refreshing about it in 1999. For one, it was about an American guy rambling around Europe and finding a dream-space with a girl, a moment in which time stops just for him, hell, just for love. It was about sweet young things living life for no other reason than because living life with others in beautiful, grandiose places is something worth doing. It featured an extemporized, unpredictable plot, like so much travel, and it glorified how bloody cool it can be to just walk around and talk with a new person equally as alienated from his/her surroundings, getting lost together and having that experience—every little detail and conversational point—mean everything. It seemed then that if you hadn’t done it, you couldn’t really understand, nor could you understand the loss [which is stupid, as one needn’t travel across the world to experience nostalgia]. Before Sunrise was a door onto that world that I’d glimpsed and seen slide out of view, and I loved it for that reason. I also loved it because it tries so hard to recreate the same magic which I’d consciously applied to my experience. It literally glowswith the overwhelming sense of unbearable, fleeting satisfaction and revels in the idea that its protagonists will memorialize it as such. Being honest, I also loved it then because I found it a very coherent film with clever, honest dialogue and two generally likeable characters who spent time exploring a city I’d only three months earlier also explored. All of this made me both tentative and eager to see Before Sunset in the summer of 2004, not long after I’d returned from another of my adventures. I was tentative because, on the one hand, watching a new installment of a film I’d so enjoyed carried the risk of disappointment (as sequels tend to do). On the other, I really wanted to know what had transpired in the interim between the two characters whose brief meeting carried all the weight of my unfulfilled longing to return.

Looking back on it now, two significant things had changed in the five years between when I first watched Before Sunrise and when I got myself down to the theater to see Before Sunset. The first was that I’d had another of those supposedly-glowy travel experiences. This one, however, had been remarkably different in a couple important ways. The first was that it had been much longer and had actually involved working, which is bound to inject a whole lot of ‘real world’ into your fantasy travel scenario, even if the work isn’t hard and much of what you enjoyed about ‘traveling’ still animates it. The second was that it involved people from my ‘real life,’ in particular one person with whom I’d long had a somewhat fraught romantic connection. Having had that relationship undergo its final death rattle while traveling somehow merged with the much more pragmatic nature of that ‘working holiday’ to produce in me (probably in conjunction with a few others things) a deep respect for the practical side of love, romance, and dreams. At that point I still harbored a great deal of idealism about love and travel and how effortlessly the two seem to mix (I would take off again only six months later on another adventure), but by the summer of 2004 it had been tempered by age and experience and a bit of overcompensation toward the ‘real world’ of relationships.

Not surprisingly, I latched on hard to Before Sunrise’s glimpse at Jesse and Céline coming together again in their early 30s after nearly a decade of disappointment. The last word is key here, as I think that by then I had come to see romance as always involving some element of disappointment. While I didn’t want to go so far as to give up on love, as Céline says she has, and I certainly didn’t want to find myself in a loveless marriage, as Jesse has, I nonetheless had decided that relationships were justifiable, worthwhile ‘work’ (my twenty-year-old self just shrieked at the idea of romance and work being placed in the same sentence). While I still harbored a lot of romantic tendencies, and could still very much get behind Jesse and Céline coming back together after all this time, what I really focused on wasn’t the nostalgia both clearly had for their past, but the futures they’d made in the interim. Relationships were supposed to be hard, I’d decided, not easy, and therefore ‘effort’ was the key, sticking with it and making sure that you didn’t let the practical stuff bog down the good, honest feelings. If you had misgivings about romance, that made sense, because romance required day to day effort and time and a lot less (I thought) of all that hooey-gooey sentimental yearning and so forth. So, weirdly, I loved Before Sunset in 2004, but for the complete opposite reason I had loved Before Sunrise in 1999.

Looking back on it now, though, I think there was something else. I think that, no matter what I told myself about how realistic and interesting and witty and smart and honest the film seemed, I still loved it for its magical moments. I’d say that I generally misunderstood what those magical moments meant, but I loved them with that same vague yearning I’d learned to treasure for something ineffable and far away. You might call it nostalgia for my nostalgia, a brief simmering flare-up of that original fire. In a film about two people talking, you really have to look for them, even find the ones you like the most and simply label them ‘magical’ for your own reasons. But they were there, in the original shock on Jesse’s face at seeing Céline, a fantastic dream-vision from his past, in the latent passion between the two as they discuss their own thoughts on love, and on way they effortlessly resume the amusing and often insightful chatter which animates their first encounter. So I came away having had both of my then-needs met: one the one hand, I’d had my new perspective on adult relationships verified in many ways, and that felt good. On the other, I’d still been allowed to grab a few gooey romantic moments and furtively keep them in my pocket for later digestion. I didn’t see it then, but there was still a problem with the way I kept these two impulses separate. 

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The Third Part, in which I attempt to bring together parts one and two.

At this point I want to return to the subject of dreams and their relationship to reality. Reading back through what I’ve written above, I haven’t really abandoned the topic, but have instead let it fade into an abstract shell hovering over the more personal narrative. I suppose my goal here is to somehow fuse the abstraction of the first part with the specificity of the second by way of coming back around fully on the big ideas with which I began.

I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that Jesse and Céline meet one another at the intersection of dreams and reality. This is true of all three films, but perhaps most true ofBefore Sunset, where their long-held notions of that night and what it meant are tested by their actual reunion, so long held at arm’s length by an unfortunate twist of fate (i.e. Céline’s perfectly good reason for not meeting Jesse in Vienna, as planned). Each claim at one point that their failed connection has resulted in a rejection of romance, wherein the reality of their lives has come to take precedence over their dreams. For Jesse this means half-heartedly throwing his lot into a relatively loveless marriage with the mother of his otherwise adored son. As he insightfully explains, in the wake of his disappointment about Céline, this result came about as the byproduct of an internal negotiation between his idealized ‘best’ self (i.e. a married, responsible father) and his ‘honest self,’ the person that would chase satisfying human connection no matter the cost. I say ‘insightfully’ because, though I’d never externalized it to myself in quite this way, this rationale is a perfectly concise explanation for how and why my own marriage flowered and wilted in the years between my two viewings of the film. What I missed in 2004, long before I was married, is how easy it can be to separateyourself into those plural selves, one which goes on living life in real time and place, drawn and tied to expedience and forward momentum, and one which you divide and hide off somewhere as a cherished secret, the self you always wanted to be. Nor did I realize then that buried somewhere in the pile of photographs and stories and memories of that European trip were the seeds of the same splitting in myself. Somehow it never occurred to me that actually sharing a life with someone would prove difficult if a good portion of the affective content of that life was devoted to a realm to which only I had access. While I had certainly let go of the specifics of the earlier nostalgia by the time I watched Before Sunset, the deeper structure remained.

Like Jesse, I threw my lot in and hoped that feeling ‘respect, trust, [and] admiration’ for another person would be enough. It wasn’t. And I know now that, because allowing these two worlds to coexist is dangerous, threatening to break the security and stable ‘happiness’ of the real, Jesse maintains his marriage at the cost of his own satisfaction, channeling everything else into his novel, a private paean to the dream scenario of his night with Céline. The novel [which, one wonders, might have made his wife fairly nervous] is an interesting artifact in the film. More than just a story, it comes to seem like the desperate cry of someone trapped on both sides of a looking glass, always looking both out and in, but unable to cross the dividing threshold. The presence of the novel also tells the lie to Jessie’s claim to have rejected romantic love. He doesn’t reject it; he just compartmentalizes it, finds it a secure hiding place (usefully, in the past, where no one else save Céline can touch it). It is only when he sees her again in the film that the two compartmentalized worlds are allowed to coexist and rupture the tedious calm to which he’s grown inured. While my story didn’t shake down this way (I never had a Céline), I nonetheless kept a vague sense of hope separate from any real-life expectations. Two worlds, two sets of conditions. In inhabiting my ‘real’ life I got to have that ‘best self’ of which Jesse speaks, but without the corresponding sense of honesty. In inhabiting my honest world I was able to dream and live a fulfilling life, but only at the cost of seeing my ‘real’ world in less than genuine terms—and what’s more, always feeling pretty guilty about the fact. It was never as clean as this explanation implies, of course. For instance, in revising Jesse’s theory to fit my own reality, I’d say that the ‘best self’ exerts an enormous influence that often comes to take on the totalizing appearance of reality. That’s why, no matter what you always knew you felt, it’s such a shock when the world that fantasy propped up comes crashing down. Moreover, because my ‘honest self’ wasn’t tied to a specific person, there was nothing more than a vague sense of discontent lurking at the edge of my affective vision. When it actually all did come apart, the seams were suddenly so obvious that it hurt all the more for realizing the extent to which one can fall back on a part of themselves and fail to see the forest for the trees.

If you read back through my piece on Eternal Sunshine and consider Jesse’s actions (and my own, I suppose) in light of the discussion I have there about Nietzsche’s amor fati (the love of fate), you can see that Jesse originally says ‘yes’ to fate in name only, assenting not to all that fate has to offer (his entire life, good and bad) but rather to a particularly failed version (which he has extended to become his entire life). Much as Joel is allowed to do in the earlier film, Jesse is then granted a fairly miraculous chance to remake that choice in the context of a dream-scenario, for better or worse (given the romantic context of the film, we assume better, but Before Midnight has a lot to say about what it actually is that both Jesse and Céline actually want and need in each other). In choosing to embrace the ‘failure’ of his real married life, a choice left much less ambiguous at film’s end than some would claim, he opts to accept all possibilities. The point is that he chooses to live.

For Céline the process is a little different, but mostly similar. As she explains in one of the film’s most poignant and gorgeously filmed scene (so gorgeous it made the cut for the primary poster), since her night with Jesse she’s learned to separate herself from romance because of how the process of splitting and forgetting is built into the process of coming together and loving. For Céline the emotional weight of each individual romance becomes—or so she says—too much to bear, and so she doesn’t even bother. If we juxtapose this perspective with Eternal Sunshine, we can see that what she really means is how hard it is—or would be—to have to deal with three, four, or however many Joel and Clementine moments. The comparison I make between Eternal Sunshine and Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being in my earlier re-view is equally as applicable here in that Céline’s objection is to saying yes to fate too many times, to having the burden of numerous fates compounded. The idea provides a much more realistic dimension to the ‘fated lovers’ story in that it more accurately depicts the average person’s reality: sure, some of us will easily find that one person with which we click, but most of us will take a few stabs at it before we get something right. And each one of those attempts is, as she notes, heartbreaking and debilitating. Céline’s problem, as Jesse is quick to point out (because he suffers from it, too), is that she’s trained herself to treat her life as a failure (see the extended debate the two have in the car on the way back to Céline’s place for more on this) and has thus essentially said no to fate. Like Kundera’s Sabina, she lives a life mostly unattached from lovers, with the important difference that she, unlike Sabina, hates herself for it.

If what I gleaned from the film in 2004 was an emphasis only on the practicality necessary in love, what I took from it this time around was the bigger picture. The dream space of the film that both Jesse and Céline occupy exists precisely so that both can come together and negotiate these two conditions and find a middle ground. While it may seem facile, there is definitely something to the idea that any good romance requires the practicality of the real and any practical connection requires the fantasy of romance. Without the romantic side the experience will feel incomplete and surreal, as though it were lived separately from one’s desires. Without the practical side, the romance remains complete fantasy, unbound by the reality of actually needing to exist with and accommodate another human being. Without sounding too philosophical I’d say that the best of the couples out there manage to entertain this productive potential of this paradox, and to do so in such a way as to create a commonspace in which there is no longer a difference between the practical and the romantic, between the fantastically lovey and the tediously ordinary. This is no small feat, and as we see in Before Midnight (spoiler alert), it’s one that not even Jesse and Céline are able to navigate without significant stress. But here at the end I feel much more comfortable stating that these films have helped me reach a point in my life where, no matter how difficult, this rough synthesis seems not only possible but desirable. What Before Sunset demonstrates that Eternal Sunshine, perhaps, does not, is that we need not have recourse to see what’s really in front of our faces the whole time: two people talking and trying to live together. 

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The Final Part, being the part with the ‘free floating thoughts’

  • While I adore nearly everything about this film, I sincerely dislike the “You promised to stay in touch” song which plays over the film’s opening credits. Sure, there’s something ‘fitting’ about it, but it’s a cloying, annoying kind of aptness that makes me cringe rather than nod in approval.
  • It was interesting this time around to consider the various ways in which the actors’ autobiographical details played a role in determining character growth. For example, given the timing of the film’s 2004 release, it’s difficult not to see Jesse as intimately related to what must have seemed like Hawke’s very fresh divorce from actress Uma Thurman. I suppose I could have noticed that back then, but it didn’t occur to me to do so. Delpy’s biographical connections were also easier for me to see in 2014, for a couple of reasons. The first is that, after watching her directorial debut, 2 Days in Paris(2008), as well as its follow-up, 2 Days in New York (2012), I found it easier to see the overlap between the Delpy-protagonists of both films, where certain details (like descriptions of both Céline and Marion’s childhoods) seem very consistent. Six years ago I attended a talk with Delpy as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival’s lecture series and I kind of regret now not having the gumption to ask her about the connections between her biography and the writing of those two characters.
  • It’s probably a necessary evil of these kinds of movies that national stereotypes, and especially American stereotypes about Europeans, play a role in characterization. That said, it annoys me that when we first meet her in Before Sunrise, Céline is attending university at La Sorbonne, just as it annoys me that, in Before Sunset, Jessie and Céline meet at Paris’s famed Anglo hideout bookstore, Shakespeare and Company (Which is, of course, her favorite bookstore). Of course, it could very well be that Céline attends the most famous French university (actually 13 different universities) in the world and that her favorite bookstore in all of Paris is a famous expat hangout. But these decisions reek of Jesse’s romanticism and of the film’s decision to indulge it. Perhaps this is simply a way of communicating to the audience the greater romantic/idealistic quality of the pair’s encounters….but it still bugs me.
  • Sorry, Ethan Hawke, but this Skeletor-skinny version is not the best looking you. On another note, I’m pretty stoked that you got rid of that facial hair from the first film and added facial hair that seems a lot less…teenage.
  • Is it me, or are Céline/Delpy’s random asides simply more interesting than Jesse/Hawke’s? Her more general and philosophical insights always attract my attention in a way that his do not. In this film, I love her story about visiting relatives in Poland and finding shelter from the overstimulation of the modern world. It was the direct inspiration for my comment, made in my June 2013 re-view of 28 Days Later, about dreaming of a world without advertising.
  • This type of talk usually goes in the main observation section of these things, but this time I thought I’d leave it as an ending aside: Outside of the occasional references to the tense political climate which characterized relations between the USA and European nations like France and Germany following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, there is very little in the film that ‘dates’ it as such. At one point Céline remarks that she is glad that Jesse isn’t “one of those ‘freedom fries’ Americans,” a direct reference to the (thankfully brief) cultural spat in the USA over the name ‘French Fries,’ wherein some supposedly patriotic Yankee apologists for the Iraq war rebranded the ubiquitous snack to remove its association with French dissent. But otherwise, the film is refreshingly ethereal and removed from real time. The Paris to which we are exposed is generally that which retains the ‘timeless’ quality we filmgoers adore so much about the city (no visible fast food chains, thank you) and the locations—likely carefully chosen—all reinforce its most charming aesthetic stereotypes: winding cobblestone streets, lush garden paths, the Seine, lovely, hidden courtyards and seemingly sophisticated apartments (I guess there’s nothing really ‘French’ or ‘Parisian’ about sophisticated apartments. Maybe only in my mind).
  • Notice Delpy’s parents, Albert Delpy and the now-deceased Marie Pillet, near the end, as Jessie and Céline walk into the latter’s apartment. If you haven’t already, you’ll see them both again in the cute and very amusing 2 Days in Paris (2009), where they play—surprise—her parents.
  • For a long time my favorite part of Before Sunset’s many scenes was the one with Jesse and Céline riding back to the latter’s apartment near the end. It’s where they’re finally able to break through their outer walls and meet on somewhat even emotional terms. It’s also where we really see how deeply the events of Before Sunrise have affected them. But this time I have to admit that my favorite bit was the one just before this, when they—at Jesse’s eager bidding—decide to ride one of the scenic tourist boats down the Seine from Notre Dame to Quai Henri VI. It’s here where the seeds of that later scene are planting firmly in the ground, where both are able to open up about how that night has affected the way they view their selves and their partners. Watching them again, it became clear that both scenes essentially express the same deep content, but in very different ways. In the first the expression is safer and more carefully worded, so as to keep the emotion bubbling underneath contained, while in the second the gates come down and the two finally speak to one another honestly. What I found myself appreciating about the first scene is the way the emotional content of the second is forced by the situation into a kind of coded articulation in language. If you look back from the vantage point of the emotional crescendo in the car, the earlier scene drips with a desperate tension.
  • The ‘day’ in which Jesse and Céline’s Parisian encounter takes place looks resplendent, all golden hues and fresh late spring colors. But apparently the actual climate in which the film was made—during the European heat wave of 2003, the hottest yet on record. So, yeah…hot.

[1] This quote, while taken from Before Sunset, is itself a reference to the conversation between Jesse and Céline in Waking Life.

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