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True love peels away our layers of defenses like an onion, leaving us with both ecstatic joy and raw vulnerability. These conflicting emotions are what director Richard Linklater captures in the film, "Before Sunset." This is a sequel to the 1995 film, "Before Sunrise," but the new movie easily stands alone on its own merit.
"Sunset" reunites the same two lovers from the first film... Jesse, an American (Ethan Hawke) and Celine, a French woman (Julie Delpy.) The pair shared an extraordinary night in "Sunrise" that neither has been able to forget. Now, nine years later, they meet again in Paris at a signing for a book Jesse has written about their love affair.
In the beginning the two are nervous, yet almost immediately comfortable with each other ...creating a feeling that they were meant to be together. The couple quickly turn from small talk to meaningful subjects, perhaps because both believe this is the last time they will ever see each other, and they don't want to spend it talking about the weather. There is a hint of sexual longing as well, but the director wisely keeps it in check. This is not meant to be a film about lust, but about soul mates.
As the film progresses, they reveal their true feelings, leading us to wonder if they'll eventually get together. Because of the realistic way in which the film is shot, however, it is impossible to tell until the end.
In "Sunset," Linklater has created a moving picture that is simple, yet not simplistic. It is filmed with intentional minimalism, choosing to shine a spotlight not on effects, but on real people. Most of the film is spent simply walking with Jesse and Celine as they get to know each other again. It creates an atmosphere so refreshingly honest that it's captivating.
A large part of the credit for this goes to Hawke and Delpy, who are emotionally authentic and have great chemistry. I feel like I know them better as people just from seeing this film. This, in conjunction with the dialogue, which is somehow spontaneous and eloquent at the same time, creates a perfect marriage of talent and class.
This film captures the essence of true love in a sincere way with no frills. It simply rests on the intrigue of its central question: what if you had a second chance to catch the one that got away?
The DVD special features include a trailer and on-the-set interviews with the director and the actors. The interviews, like the film, feel real and honest. The people talk candidly about how great it feels to revisit a story and characters that are so close to their hearts. Clearly, this was a passion project for them all, and it's probably the main reason why this film works as well as it does.