Before Sunset is the most effortless sequel I have ever seen. There’s really no point at to even make it, the first film ends perfectly ambiguously where it’s up to anyone’s interpretation. Odds are that making a sequel would just serve to tarnish the goodwill and memories of the first film. After all, that was a huge theme of Before Sunrise, the idea of all this happening on one night, with the real distinct possibility of never seeing this person again. Of course, now we have they’ve met up again, and it’s about as good as you could ever get. I say the film is effortless because it’s so simplistic in its presentation, but so true to the characters and the world that the previous film had created. This is really all we need, these two characters conversing as they make their way through the beautiful Paris landscape
In the first film I absolutely loved the long takes, which just cemented how well Hawke and Delpy work together, how they could string a conversation on for so long, ad-lib the tiniest and realist details to seem like a conversation you could see at any cafe or bar. “Sunset” absolutely blows it out of the water, staging a real time 80 minute film with countless long takes through streets and parks, with Hawke and Delpy never missing a beat. You get mesmerized by the two bunting back and forth that sometimes you don’t realize the swooping adventure that Linklater’s camera has taken you on, all within one shot. Then you realize your surroundings, and it gracefully backs up and supports what is being mused by Jesse and Céline.
Hawke and Delpy have such great chemistry that they seem to instantaneously jump back into their character’s skins and the history feels real. How it often works better than the first film, conversationally wise, is the now shared history and events between them that have shaped this meeting nine years later. Now they’re not just talking about their own sex lives and relationships, it’s even realer now that they are sparring over their real feelings for each, what it all means, and how it has affected the lives they have live since. We as the audience feel a part of it, having experienced that one night with them, all those years ago (or a few hours for me), with every revelation hitting just as hard for us. The characters are still so similar, but different enough now to create new feelings between them. Looking back they were just kids when they spent that night together, hardly a full-fledged life between them, but now they’re full-blown adults with jobs, significant others and responsibilities.
They may have moved on in a physical sense, but emotionally both are still invested in that night all those years ago. Jesse wrote an entire book to retain the memory, and Céline wrote a song about it. As much as it seems inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, that night shaped a lot of how they are now, how they view relationships, and the effect of each other’s presence on their loved ones. Each was searching for an ideal of the other, that they just couldn’t find, a copy that wasn’t out there, until they bumped into each other nine years later. It’s not instantly falling in love and running off together, but it’s the presence of Jesse and Céline together again, knowing what began to define them into adulthood, into their life.