The second film in Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy finds its wayward couple in a different European city at different stages of their lives. Jesse, now a successful author having written a popular book based upon the night he and Céline crossed paths, is in Paris for the final date in a whirlwind book tour. While wrapping up questions from journalists keen to believe his thinly veiled work of ‘fiction’ is indeed based on a romantic reality, he sees a familiar face. Having heard he’ll be in town, Céline, now a passionate campaigner for environmentalist justice, couldn’t resist the opportunity to drop by. Suddenly, we’re back on familiar ground.
It’s not all smooth sailing, though. After a death in the family forced Céline to bail on her and Jesse’s fateful meeting their lives were forced down vastly different routes and the pair remain equally damaged by this missed opportunity. Jesse is now a father and stuck in a seemingly loveless marriage while Céline remains fiercely independent, almost to a fault; doubting that a ‘happily ever after’ is even still on the cards for her future. It’s bittersweet stuff but as the duo stroll around the beautiful Paris streets and urban gardens and sail up the Seine, they find a brief window of opportunity to work through their problems before Jesse has to catch a plane home.
The middle part of Linklater’s story may be the best, despite all three being stand out works of relationship drama. The director once again opts for long, meandering shots of dialogue as Hawke and Delpy, both of whom share screenplay credits this time around, try to make sense of how their lives have turned out so far. Linklater’s pacing to get these characters back to the hopeless romantics they once were is subtle and masterful. Both start guarded and nonchalant but as they delve deeper into the Parisian streets (the unofficial third member of the relationship) their defences are let down and their cards laid on the table.
The climax of Before Sunset is just as ambiguous as that of its predecessor - leaving audiences on tenterhooks as to whether Jesse leaves this would-be life and returns to his domestic reality. However, the sparks and simmering excitement in the film’s final moments are undeniable. If part one was about wreckless optimism, part two is full of quiet determination.