← Back to Reviews
MovieMeditation presents...
— Retro Review —

directed by Richard Linklater

Life's hard, it's supposed to be.
If we didn't suffer, we'd never learn anything...


Introductory essay — is it possible to arrive too soon to a sunset?
Before I invite you all into this conversation with me and begin to talk in great lengths about this film, I firstly want to walk you through my thoughts and feelings about my first cinematic trip to Paris, in the company of the follow-up feature to ‘Before Sunrise’, and how this latest revisit almost turned my initial encounter counter-clockwise on itself...

After passionately participating in some nice nightly strolls through the streets of Vienna before sunrise, I definitely felt dressed for the occasion of another trip together with these lovely individuals, though this time I would be walking through the streets of Paris before sunset. Soon after I had come down to earth again, after having experienced the first film, I quickly rushed out to get my hands on the second one. But unfortunately, this second affair seemed to be stripped almost completely of that prior elegant enquires about the mysterious, the superficial and the magic and meaning of love. And while love is blind I certainly wasn’t, and I could see the progression in the story and within its characters was only natural, but still I missed how their love seemed to be constantly on the rise, in comparison to how they were still settling in with each others company again, during this second encounter. It does make sense though, how they were mostly discovering things during ‘Sunrise’, while the night was still young, where in ‘Sunset’ they began to examine everything further, while there was still light at the end of the tunnel. But in relation to ‘Before Sunrise’ you could say, as genuine and authentic the approach to love and romance is, as superficial is it. But the film also makes a point with this statement, since it equally shows love as this genuine encounter between two people with similar interests, while also showing how magical and endlessly lasting love can make everything feel. I guess I was simply caught off guard with how ‘Before Sunset’ was set up, and how it didn’t feel as everlasting as before. But with that being said, I guess the problem lies more with me than with the movie, since my current state in life is more on the rise than about to set.

Because I'm still living out my younger days, so obviously I relate more to the first film and connect more with the characters at that point in their lives, because that is where I am now in my life. You know, finding love, living out long nights, longing after new faces and all that. So when watching ‘Sunset’ at this point in time, I haven’t personally caught up with the characters as of yet. But even though I haven’t evolved much in terms of age since my last visit, I have definitely evolved more as a cinephile and as a human being, within this small timeframe. I feel like I can relate to certain subjects to a greater extent, though I mostly just understand their situation a lot better than I did the last time. How I came to arrive at this place in time or how I came to understand the themes that took place doesn’t really matter much. What matters in the end is that I’m no longer upset about arriving too early to a sunset, because I found time to spend before the sunset, while knowing there will be more waiting in the future…


Review — a new beginning to an old affair
The film starts out with Jessie, who has written a book based upon the eternal encounter he had in Vienna with this beautiful French woman, Celine. As Jessie says later in the film, he wrote the book as a way to try and find his long lost love, which sounds pretty sweet but with a bitter aftertaste. In a way, the scenario of them meeting is no longer based upon chance or destiny, but instead based on fact and with a small drop of fiction. Personally, I love to discuss what might be rather what is… what can happen instead of what has happened… what lies in front of me instead of what lies behind. But this film starts out in a way that completely contradicts with these previous statements, since the book basically goes against each and every one of these sayings and also lays ground for their eventual discussions. And though not every subject of conversation submerges within these blocked boxes of narrow reality, the conversations are still about their past lives and partly their present lives, while a bright future is nowhere to be found. It took me more than one watch to accept the authentic angle of which Richard Linklater had covered up this follow-up in, but when I finally did, I was able to departure from prior anticipations and focus more on the future of my current viewing.

‘Before Sunset’ definitely dives deeper within the opinions and debates, compared to the almost floating thoughts and loose discussions of the first one. As of now, the discussions have turned so serious, at times even depressing in fact, and though it can feel all the more hitting because of this, it may also make the viewer feel more distanced to what is happening – especially for those who are not currently married with kids nor presently going through any kind of mid-life crisis. What I’m trying to get at here is this… as soon as one of these characters, especially Celine, began to stretch out subjects of first and second world problems, as well as country-particular politics and environmental worries, I was quickly longing for that lively spark of love and life’s philosophies from the past. Obviously, I do find current and serious situations both interesting and important, but in relation to the film itself, I just wasn’t particularly excited to overhear such dialogues – or rather flat one-sided monologues in most cases actually. Jessie was often one to lead the waltz of wonderful discussions, filled with wonder and mystery, while Celine basically took over several places in this film, especially in the beginning, with something a tad more boring and a bit more tiring. When Celine was babbling away about these things, she felt more like a speaker in court than a human being having a conversion. It ended up a little too exhausting at times, to hear about her concerns for everything around her, as well as her problems with work and life in general. But even so, most of these discussions felt natural and was very well-written, and they did more or less hold my attention as well – though I lost interest a couple of places throughout – but only for a few seconds. In most cases, it was like I had finally connected with some of these subjects, but then I found myself once again wondering why I couldn’t really get into the characters and their current situation, only to return to the reality of the film quickly after.

What I’m trying to say here, is how it just felt a little weird seeing Jessie and Celine meet at this mid-point in their lives… in a state of mind and soul, where they were both living at a very different place in their respective lives. But still they clearly have a connection with each other, holding some strong emotional feelings as well, which have been building up for nine years prior to this meeting. I might have sounded negative about how I described this natural evolvement into a new milestone in their lives, and how they glanced upon their past encounter, but despite how weird everything felt at first, and considering the complains I had toward some of their other discussions, it is precisely at this point where things started to become interesting. Even though their discussions are less magical and superficial; less dreamy and exciting; I loved to hear about how their encounter countless years ago has effected their lives as of now, and how they can’t seem to let go for various reasons. How they look back at this encounter and be filled up with complete joy, only to have it all come back to haunt them later. The really interesting discussions come from the periods where they bring up what happened nine years ago, what happened after they went separate ways, and how it connects to them now… how that one night has confused their lives, changed their personalities, and how they can't leave it behind… how they see good and bad things with the fact that they have met each other, and particularly how they both struggle when they are far away from one another.

It was a lot of fun to witness their respective perceptions of their past encounter in Vienna and how they went about their lives afterwards, especially how they both chose to remember the night differently. Jessie wrote an entire book within a span of four entire years, reliving that one night over and over again, while Celine had kept a thorough journal about every little detail. The film and these more emotional discussions keep growing throughout, all the way from the opening scene to the beautiful closing scene, with the film truly picking up and catching my full attention when they go on a boat trip through the city. During this trip they dive seriously deep within themselves, both as individuals and as joined souls, where the discussions go from surfaced troubles to strong inner emotions. To witness Jessie talk about his marriage, his kids and how he feels as if his life has passed him by without that one person he hoped to be with during this timespan, is all very touching and reaches something within you.

Same goes for Celine when she describes her mid-life crisis, especially when they ride in the car home to her apartment. I remember not being very fond of this passage in the film, where they would go up against each other to a point where they were almost about to give up on their current situation. Celine’s endless talk of how she hasn’t been able to recover from their departure that morning in Vienna nine years ago has never hit me as hard as it did during this particular passage. At this point, I finally began to understand her and the situation she is currently living in, unable to escape from it all. This scene reaches its high mark once she extends her hand towards Jessie, but she then stops for a second, and takes it back with the look of sheer confusion, inner pain and a split conflict. Jessie has a similar scene where he talks about the awful dreams he has had about Celine, waking up in cold sweat and having a hard time explaining this to his wife. He can’t stop thinking about her, not during the intimate moments at home or even during their wedding day… So, that they met each other may be a gift, but the fact that they didn’t end up together is like a curse to both of them.

The film ends on a bittersweet note, where you are uncertain of where things will go from here, but you see a little hope within the last scene even so. I do miss the scenario in ‘Before Sunrise’, where they were these two people walking around while the night was still young – a night that just felt never-ending, because they lived out every moment like it was eternal. But in ‘Before Sunset’, it was more about how they had little time to catch up on, how they were constantly trying to push their “break-up” further away, hoping to be in each other’s company just a little bit more. During this rewatch, I was able to be a lot more present within the various moments, rather than focus on the fact that these moments were about to run out. But still, I’m not a fan of how their route seems premeditated so that it fits together with the eventual departure, or how their journey feels so “locked in place” this time around. With the first film, it was like an explorer’s adventure through love and life itself, while the second film is more of a destined path for turning over old rocks. They created a spark instantly in the first film, now they walk through Paris trying to rekindle that spark. “Where can we go until you need to go?” is a question that feels constant throughout. I do understand how it resembles their wish to keep this moment going for eternity, how they simply can’t leave each other all over again and how they can’t cut the connection like last time. It is quite obvious they want to keep talking; after all they have nine years of feelings and thoughts to let out.

Anyways, as I said the ending was kind of beautiful; that song Celine did for Jessie was really great and fit perfectly with the tone during those last minutes. It kind of reminded me of the listening booth in the music store, in ‘Before Sunrise’, and how their looks spoke a thousand words. Within this guitar scene the magic can be felt again, though this film generally goes for a more serious tone throughout, as I stated previously. Again, it is only a natural progression for the story and these characters to take. It isn’t like the approach is all wrong with this film, but I don't think the balance between a time that has past and a spark that is still glowing is perfectly done all the time. But actually, this used to be my least favorite in the series, and though it still may be until I get around a rewatch of ‘Midnight’, I finally appreciated it enough to have the film officially win me over… Accepting the progression of the story lead to an amazing experience, which was perhaps less magical, but at times it got under the skin in ways the first one never managed to do. It is a film that doesn’t play the same strings all over, neither does it play within the same genre of music, but the stories are equally touching – just bringing forward different emotions; different subject matters; and different milestones in the evolution of a genuine relationship…



Looks like I better bring a review of 'Midnight' too, so I can complete my trilogy of retro reviews here... At least I have just about seven years until I have to do a review of a 'Before' film again, which is quite a relief. Because these have been exhausting, though I love the movies eternally...

- MM