Thursday, November 7, 2013


We first met Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy) in their twenties some eighteen years ago on a train to Vienna as they fell in love then parted ways after one fateful night in director Richard Linklater’s BEFORE SUNRISE (1995). Nine years later in BEFORE SUNSET (2004) we found them again, this time in Céline’s hometown of Paris at a promotion for Jesse’s book about their encounter. In spite of their committed relationships (he is married with child; she with another man) they fitfully succumbed to the rekindled embers of the past as Linklater closed that film with the tantalizing hint of further romantic complications. Now they (and we) are nine years older still. Since then Jesse has divorced his wife, moved to Paris with Céline, fathered twin girls, and written more books to varying degrees of commercial and critical success. We drop in on him during an uncharacteristically stilted airport conversation with his grown son Hank (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) as the boy prepares to return to his mother. During the car ride back to the home of Patrick (the Greek author hosting him and his family for a summer of conversation, food, and drink) Jesse ponders whether he should be a more regular presence in his son’s life while Céline considers a change in career, as their towheaded children snooze in the back seat. Their courtship period has passed. On the cusp of middle age they negotiate the treacherous waters of family, career, and the mutability of love. Linklater’s script (co-written with Delpy and Hawke) keeps the talk flowing, and the dialogue’s loose structure and natural rhythms give the sense of being privy to the most intimate of conversations. While Delpy’s unaffected performance fits the material perfectly, Hawke at times feels self-conscious (though, in fairness, I’m unsure whether it’s the actor or the character). For the heartbreaking penultimate scene, however, they each achieve a vulnerability that’s breathtaking. In all three films (each richer than the last) Linklater, Delpy and Hawke avoid pat closure and provide the uneasy comfort that with life and relationships imperfection is the rule, not the exception.

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