Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Before Sunset

BEFORE SUNSET                  A                    
USA  (80 mi)  2004  d:  Richard Linklater

Hollywood directors have largely become anonymous corporate entities, where aside from a few individualistic names like Martin Scorsese or the Coen Brothers, the names of the directors are interchangeable, as films today are actually made by corporate technicians that oversee stunts and special effects.   Within this group consortium, a few individuals from the mid 90’s stand out, like Todd Haynes’ SAFE (1995), Gregg Araki’s THE DOOM GENERATION (1995), and Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise (1995).  While these films were never commercial blockbusters, all three establish a personal vision, as they do set a tone for intelligence and stylistic novelty, becoming part of the new American independent movement.  Before Sunrise stands out even among the director’s own output, built upon long takes and an established trust between a constantly moving camera and the subtle nuances of slowly developing characters, establishing an exquisite sensibility defined by cultural refinement and grace, beautifully incorporating the music of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and Bach’s Goldberg Variations that begin and end the film, all examples that couldn’t be farther from the Hollywood model.  Despite the overall originality of the film. which is like nothing else of its time, an intimate blend of writing, architectural romanticism, and the naturalistic feel of the performances involved, the film was barely recognized, winning Best Director at Berlin while receiving little other acclaim, where the film is not listed on the Top Ten list of a single notable critic (see Critic’s Top Ten:  Eric C. Johnson | Behold, the Mutants Shall Wither...).  Like Linklater’s two earlier films, SLACKER (1991) and DAZED AND CONFUSED (1993), all three take place in a 24-hour period, each represents a world of uncertainty, and while they all occur in a single geographical location, the films feature wandering characters far removed from any sense of the comforts of home.  This underlying sense of alienation from a constantly shifting world in flux, where the future is anything but certain, remains at the core of Linklater films, distinguished by a complex relationship to the characters.  Like his earlier film, BEFORE SUNSET spends much of its time walking through city streets, where the fluid movement of the camera matches the effortless flow of an unending conversation, given such a naturalistic, improvisational flair that it’s as if they are discovering their emotions for the very first time on camera, feeling at the same time overly exhilarated and quietly melancholy, beautifully capturing the blossoming of youth like no other film in recent memory. 

How does one describe this film, which may be even better than its predecessor?  One must definitively declare it’s a romantic film without the artifice of love, with a finale that is simply sublime and unforgettable.  Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, who along with the director are credited with the screenplay, meet in Paris nine years after a rapturous one-night affair (brief images remind us), which was described in a previous film, Before Sunrise, made by the same director in 1995, featuring the same two actors spontaneously meeting on a train to Vienna where the thought that they would never see one another again permeated their every waking moment, never leaving their last names or addresses, as that would have been too conventional.  However, before they departed, they agreed to meet after six months.  The earlier film ends ambiguously, never revealing the outcome.  Now Hawke is in Paris at the end of a book tour, speaking to a small gathering at a bookstore about his novel, a fictionalized account of that affair.  He is asked about that very ambiguity, and answers vaguely, but sees out of the corner of his eye, the girl with whom he had the affair.  As he has about an hour before he must leave for the airport, flying back to New York, the two of them very carefully re-acquaint themselves, slowly feeling each other out and reconnecting their lives while walking through the back streets of Paris, sitting in parks, and at a café, even taking a boat ride on the River Seine before his limo driver meets them.  For about 70 minutes, the camera follows them in real time with a succession of tracking shots, where every gesture, every wince, every smile is captured.  The two are smart, attractive, funny, and real, and the time is spent with the two of them talking non-stop, rarely stopping to pause or reflect.  The only complaint perhaps is that they talk too much.  While what they say to one another is genuinely moving at times, the non-stop verbiage is also an onslaught to the viewers, reminding one of Woody Allen’s romantic best or Éric Rohmer, with flourishes of anxiety and self-deprecating wit, but more challenging and intense, continually searching to find the right thing to say, with gushes of honest, unpretentious realism.   Where it all leads to is a wonderment.  Very tasteful, nothing overdone, everything exactly in synch with these two characters who are brilliantly effortless, especially Delpy, who singlehandedly steers this film into one of the most beautiful endings captured on film, beginning with a song, A Waltz for a night (Before Sunset) Julie Delpy YouTube (4:01), leading to the rhythm and grace of Nina Simone singing “Just in Time” Before Sunset - YouTube (4:33).

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