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Oeuvre is an in-depth examination of the entire body of work of an important director.

Nine years after tantalizing audiences with one of cinema’s most delicious “what-if” endings, Richard Linklater returns to the characters from Before Sunrise in the near perfect sequel Before Sunset. Following the deliciously dopey Jack Black-vehicle School of Rock, Linklater revisited the fecund ground of philosophizing that filled some of his earlier classics like Slacker and Tape.

When we last saw Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke), they agreed to meet up six months after an impromptu day and night of love and discussion as they prowled the streets of Vienna. Meeting by chance on a train, the pair decided to return the Viennese train station six months later, eschewing the need to exchange phone numbers or other personal details. Remember, Before Sunrise came out before the age of Facebook and took place in a world where it was truly easy to lose someone for good.

While the will-they-or-won’t-they ending is one of the many virtues of Before Sunrise, the sequel answers many of the questions raised by the first part that tickled and tortured fans for nearly a decade. When the film begins, Jesse is now an author, visiting Paris on a book tour. We learn that he and Celine, now an environmental advocate, did not meet up as they had promised one another and Jesse has written a book about that momentous day in his life. At the end of his book-signing, Celine appears and the two embark on a trip through Paris where they catch up and old passions ignite.

At the end of Before Sunrise, Linklater takes us back to the places the duo visited in Vienna, showing us the locations without the protagonists and demonstrating the fickleness of time and how a single moment can change someone’s life. In a mirroring trick, Before Sunset begins with all the empty Parisian locations Jesse and Celine will visit, a hopeful montage for the future. While Before Sunrise relied on the romanticization of an exotic city and the new feelings of love, Before Sunset finds Celine and Jesse, now well into their thirties, confronting the disappointments in life. Let’s not forget Before Sunrise was not all chocolate boxes and flowers, but the sequel addresses dashed dreams and the attempt to figure out the very reason for existence.

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Jesse is now married with a son, stuck in a loveless relationship and still pining away for Celine. Celine has been in a string of unfulfilling relationships and is more guarded about her feelings than Jesse. Like its predecessor, time plays a big role in Before Sunset. Jesse only has an hour to roam Paris with Celine before he needs to depart for the airport and the brief film feels like it was shot in real time. While the discussion begins with the safe topic of politics, both characters recognize they are running of time and that examining the fateful day they spent together in Vienna soon consumes them both.

If the first film was about passion, the second film is about dissatisfaction. When we are young, death seems impossible and our romantic impulses rule over reason. Celine and Jesse are both dissatisfied in their current lives and look back on that one day as the possible salvation to pull them out of the doldrums. Is this naïve? Certainly. Yet, this new encounter re-ignites a dormant passion and allows both of them to feel for the first time in years. Is there anything more romantic than that?

It is also interesting to see how much the actors have aged since the first film. Hawke is more sallow, almost as if time has leached away his youthful essence. Delpy’s hips have grown and her face has thinned out, still beautiful but as if the childlike joy has ebbed away.

While Before Sunset also ends on an ambiguous note, there is a more mature certainty to what happens next to Jesse and Celine. Perhaps the biggest mystery now is whether the trio will return for a third part in another 10 years.

by David Harris

Other Linklater Oeuvre Features

School of Rock

Live From Shiva’s Dance Floor

Tape

Waking Life

The Newton Boys

subUrbia

Before Sunrise

Dazed and Confused

Slacker

The Early Years
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