So a few weeks ago I re-watched Before Sunset and I fell in love with it all over again. This was sort of inspired by a recent Scenic Routes (a column on the AVClub where Mike D’Angelo analyzes a scene, good or bad, from a movie) that looked at the last scene of the film. And it is great, no doubt. But it is hard to really isolate any particular scene from the movie, as it is a. essentially in real time and b. just one ongoing conversation between two people. The film (like it’s predecessor) instead emphasizes location, the first shots of the film being a rundown of all the major locations that Jesse and Celine will walk though in the film. But ANYWAY even though I just said one can’t really pick a specific scene from the movie I’m going to pick the only other option: the beginning, which I think is a little more interesting and it packs a slightly bigger punch.
So we’re in a bookshop and Ethan Hawke has written a book that is clearly about what took place in the first movie, nine years ago (both in real life and in the world of the films). Oh yeah, this is a sequel. If you haven’t seen it (it’s called Before Sunrise, get it?), see it, but mostly so you can watch this one. So young Ethan and Julie Delpy meet on a train and on a whim they get out at Vienna and spend a night together and they “connect.” The next morning they part, don’t exchange contact information (because they don’t want it to fade out into letter writing) and agree to meet up in the same spot, exactly six months later. Do they meet up again? Well, as Jesse (Hawke) helpfully points out nine years later in the bookstore, that depends on your point of view.
This scene is pretty amazing for the manner in which it gets some exposition out of the way while establishing some nice thematic elements while ALSO giving you a quick summary of the first movie in case you just randomly rented this on Netflix. The cuts back to the first film while Jesse is answering questions provides us the audience with two things: a good contrast with the present (we can see just how Jesse has aged), and a definite answer to the journalist’s question on autobiography. But the director/editor does something else with it that is even awesomer. Most of the shots of the past are of Julie Delpy and for good reason – she is quite beautiful. But when Linklater finally cuts to a shot of Celine (Delpy) in the present, we are at first unsure of where we are. Are we seeing her in the past or in the present? Not only does this provide a great counterpoint to the story Jesse is telling at the moment (even the dialogue being spoken over this point is “both moments simultaneously” – the two Celines are existing in both times for Jesse), but the second and a half it takes us to realize that we’re looking at Celine in the present is EXACTLY what Jesse experiences as he glances over to her, and it might be my favorite moment in a film of great moments. (from 6:05-6:15 or so in the vid I posted)
Other things: I also really like how Jesse’s idea for his next book is so characteristically Linklater. It wouldn’t really be out of place in Waking Life or Slacker. (indeed Jesse and Celine cameo in Waking Life)
And it’s sort of interesting (and sad) to note that if Jesse and Celine met in Vienna in 2010 instead of 1994 they would totally just have friended each other on Facebook after the movie ended, and probably left it at that. Even if they didn’t exchange e-mail addresses, a quick Google search is usually enough.