Before Sunset (2003)

before sunset

“Memory’s a wonderful thing if you don’t have to deal with the past.”


Louise’s rating: Three out of three Paris landmarks

Louise’s review: Welcome to The Next Chapter, or rather, The Epilogue. Before Sunset is a short ‘real time’ film detailing how the characters we met in Before Sunrise reunite unexpectedly in Paris. It’s very similar to its predecessor – the characters walk through the streets, have a coffee, have a boat ride, etc., discussing their lives and their thoughts, seemingly unaware that they are being followed by a camera.

If you wanted more of the same, you do get it. However, there is a definite change in the air. Jesse and Celine are older now. They’ve realized that you don’t discover kindred spirits around every corner, and how unhappy you can make yourself if you commit to the wrong person.

Despite its Paris setting, Before Sunset never has the light, romantic, valentine-y feel of Sunrise. It begins with awkwardness: Jesse and Celine did not live love’s young dream after their first meeting and they have a lot of explaining to do. The conversation gets increasingly bitter as they recount their problems and worries, which have only grown over the nine years. However, we still want these guys to get together, don’t we? The problem is, do they want it enough to bite the bullet and actually declare their love? By the end, you can sense the characters’ desperation to be honest and fling themselves into the other’s arms, as much as their hesitation and shyness.

The thing I like most about these films is the length and width of the shots. The takes are long and usually three quarters of both Jesse and Celine are in view. This allows the viewer to observe both characters, their body language, their facial expressions, their reactions to what the other has to say, in short the real back-and-forth of their dialogue. There is no obvious ‘look here! look here!’ – no close-ups – just opportunities to observe the subtle signs of growing attraction, and other things as well. Here’s one example. When the characters are on a boat on the Seine, the wind keeps blowing Celine’s top astray, and so the viewer has repeated glimpses of her bare lower back. It’s not sexual, but it is sensuous, and it’s also unusual because I get the feeling that in most films, the flapping top would have been pinned in place to stop it causing a distraction, or else it would have been objectified, or forced to serve the plot, or there would be so many fast cuts and close-ups in the scene that they wouldn’t have bothered with wind.

Something else I really like about Before Sunset is that it sort of apologizes for any and all moments of pretentiousness or insufferableness or eye-watering earnestness in Sunrise. Jesse and Celine freely acknowledge that maybe not getting each other’s addresses was not the smartest move on their parts, and that they were far too young to be ‘mature adults.’ Ironically, as adults, they now know that they would grab onto each other and not let go if they felt free to do so.

I don’t just recommend Before Sunset. I consider it required viewing.


Justin’s rating: Will the third movie be ‘Before Civil Twilight?’

Justin’s review: Okay. I know I spent the entire review of Before Sunrise trying to convey a specific feel I got from the movie and little else. I think I might have been a little too girly, even for my own good. That was intentional; sometimes there’s a lot to say about something, and you just need to pick one important aspect to comment on. Because this movie duo is so similar in tone and production as to be two halves to the same work, I’ll let Sunrise‘s review stand for my emotional reaction to both films, and this review to comment on the other niggling details.

Before Sunrise and Before Sunset are about romance, but I can’t safely call them “romance movies” without incurring images of Meg Ryan, Drew Barrymore, Audrey Hepburn, and Sandra Bullock. And that’s not fair to either type of romance story. These two films are a romance stripped down to the bare, eschewing events for conversation, wild sex scenes for intimate glances, and sweeping stories for a small moment in time. I’m not crazy about either of the “Before” movies in the sense that I’ll be watching them more than once in my life, but they are definitely special and highly deserving of at least that one viewing.

Before Sunrise chronicles a meeting between a guy and a girl, and trails along with their discussion during the wee hours of the night. It’s a lot about how conversation is one of the essential cores of any good romantic relationship, which feels natural when you see it here, and makes you notice the absence of true conversation in other “romance” flicks. It’s a lot about how these two people don’t know who they really are, or what the meaning of the world around them is, yet fail to let that stop them from pontificating at length about it all. By the end, there’s love, there’s connection, there’s a moment where everything seems setup for a perfect Hollywood ever-after… and then (spoiler for the first movie) they part ways without exchanging information, only agreeing to meet back at the same spot in six months.

My wife was screaming at the TV at the end of Before Sunrise for its atypical ending, and screamed again at the finale of Before Sunset. It wasn’t, she assured me, that it was bad. I think it’s because it deftly avoids many of the romance movie clichés that lets the audience know that now is the time to feel all warm and fuzzy, and now is the moment when you can relax because your couple is together for movie eternity. Heck, I paid attention, and in both of these films, neither of the characters even said “I love you.” Did they feel it? That’s up to you. What happens at the end? Again, up to you. If ambiguity isn’t your thing, then walk away now.

Right … insert quote from wife on this note who is in fact snooping on her husband’s computer, in all honesty, while he is at a youth event on date night (feeling guilty yet, darling?) Screaming is not how I would put it. In fact, screaming is not how most would put it. In fact, the shrillness of my voice peaking out over the sound of the misty tears flowing from my husband’s sarcasm would beseech anyone into screaming out of bittersweetness … aw, he actually sat through not just one but TWO of my movies. Kudos for me!

Nine years later, it’s obvious that something went awry with the “meet in six months” plan. Jesse (Ethan Hawke) is in Paris shilling his latest best seller, when he finally bumps back into waifish Celine (Julie Delpy). As a new conversation dawns, we eventually find out why they failed to reconnect earlier and what’s happened ever since. As much as Before Sunrise was about a blossoming romance, Before Sunset is about a romance that might or might not be over, that’s still looking back at a moment frozen in time, and is full of nostalgia, pain, and regret.

Both of these films are well-loved in critic circles, mostly because they refreshingly deviate from what we normally expect from a movie and give us something a bit new and raw. I always love noticing little movie tricks that directors use to tell you a story outside of what the characters are saying or doing. Before Sunset‘s trick is that about half of this short movie unspools as the two characters walk toward the camera; we only ever see where they’ve been in their little journey. At a certain point – and it’s pretty subtle – the camera swoops around and we begin to see more of where they’re headed. It’s not consistent, but it is cool in a symbolic way. The story is told with essential minimalism, letting us once again delve into a conversation and read what’s really going on between the lines. Heck, it almost makes me feel like a film student instead of a critic… maybe I need a fart joke in here.

I like that we get to see these two characters in their more mature years (early 30s vs. early 20s), that we explore a bit of both Jesse’s and Celine’s world. Jesse remains a cynical horndog (the way he keeps steering the conversation to sex is almost painfully biographical of most guys I know), and Celine flickers between quirky humor and barely-masked hurt. You want these two to get together, of course, but you also know that perhaps they shouldn’t, and perhaps they can’t. That’s what makes it real instead of staged.

Above all, from a technical angle, a great honkin’ trophy of acclaim should be given to these two actors who manage to do huge swathes of dialogue, back and forth, while walking and doing all sorts of actions… with very few camera cuts along the way. Both movies just stunned me when I realized that they’d been talking and talking for well over eight or nine minutes without a cut, and nary a stutter or false beat showed up.

I once put Sue to task for the numbing sameness of so many romance movies out there, begging her to provide examples where they break out of this sugar happy mode. I gladly admit defeat on this one.

So, shall we see how many meatballs we can get off old Fluffykins here?
So, shall we see how many meatballs we can get off old Fluffykins here?


  • Julie Delpy wrote and performed three songs for the soundtrack.
  • Average Shot Length (ASL) = 10.1 minutes
  • Celine says to Jesse “You’re a Scorpio, I’m a Sag, so we get along.” These are Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy’s signs in real life.
  • Linklater, Hawke and Delpy wrote the screenplay themselves. Shooting took a mere 15 days.
  • Though this movie was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, the screenplay is not based upon any existing text. However, the Academy rule book says that all sequels are adaptations.

Groovy Dialogue

Celine: Do I look any different? [long pause] I do?
Jesse: I’d have to see you naked.

Celine: Memory’s a wonderful thing if you don’t have to deal with the past.

Jesse: [about his marriage] I feel like I’m running a small nursery with someone I used to date.

Jesse: Life’s hard. It’s supposed to be. If we didn’t suffer, we’d never learn anything.

Celine: It’s amazing what perverts we’ve become in the past nine years.

Celine: I was having this awful nightmare that I was 32. And then I woke up and I was 23. So relieved. And then I woke up for real, and I was 32.

If you enjoyed this movie, try:

  • subUrbia
  • Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason

One comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s