#858 Before Sunset
2004 // USA // Richard Linklater
Criterion Collection (LINK)
Is it nine years, or just a split of second from the end of Before Sunrise (1995) to the beginning of Before Sunset? For the two leads Ethan Hawk and Julie Delpy and the director Richard Linklater, it’s exactly nine years apart between the making of the two films, likewise the characters offscreen have since been living their own virtual life for nine years as well. The weight of the time is effectively palpable when Jesse (Ethan Hawk) and Celine (Julie Delpy) ultimately broke the promise of meeting again six months later at the end of Before Sunrise (or at least one of them did show up) and only see each other, this time in Paris, nine years later. But for me, the “nine-year” is just a span of one hour as I conceivably start watching Before Sunset once the preceding film ends. As such film is the malleable record of time and space ever since editing is achievable, so that time can be expanded or compressed, sectioned or coalesced, presented chronologically or disorderly. I personally edit the nine years out, unknowingly eliminate the longing with time.
In Before Sunrise, the two sets of time concerned are the “nine-year” gap and the “eighty-minute” screening time. The film opens with Celine appears at Jesses’s book-reading section at the Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris, a part of the book tour Jesse did for his bestselling novel inspired by his brief encounter with Celine nine years ago in Vienna. They speak while strolling in the alleys of Paris, debate while sitting inside a cafe, express their longing while taking off a short boat trip, soon they find out the truth behind their failed meeting, the changes in their personal life respectively and their resulted dissatisfaction. The “nine-year” is filled with regret and the question of “if”. What would happen if they really meet up again as they promised? It’s like an alternative timeline or a parallel universe which could only be left in the imagination.
Whatever happened, happened. They cannot change the past, what Jesse and Celine did is grasp on the present. Like Agnès Varda’s Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962), the film is arguably presented in real time. The “before sunset” is the deadline before Jesses leaving to the airport, and from the time they meet in the bookstore, Jesse repeatedly delays their farewell and the time slowly expands into “eighty minutes” before the screen fades to black in Celine’s apartment. If “before sunrise” is the deadline they did obliged with uncertainty and ultimately resulted in regret, then “before sunset” is the time limit they defies and ends with ambiguity, not until Before Midnight (2013) we finally get the revelation.
Besides the motif of time, the film could also be about lost and found. Without the lost of their promised meeting, Jesse and Celine might not have the better understanding of how important that night was. Even though they try to lie to themselves during the conversation, like Celine disclaims they had sex that night or Jesse originally lies he didn’t show up at the promised meeting, they eventually express their deepest feeling and realise the possibility that their emptiness comes from the lost of each other. In contrary, the alternative of they meeting up as they planned would be a far less intriguing circumstance thematically, and their possible relationship would be understandably less profound. In other words, the lost of “nine-year” time is recouped with a more intense desire and and a more heartfelt reunion. Out of the three films in the Before Trilogy, Before Sunset is probably my favorite due to the lyrical romanticism it imbued and the optimistic perception that love, even once lost, could be found again. Just be patient with your time, or perhaps better, write a book about it.