It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Nine years have passed since Jesse and Celine met in Vienna and walked all over the city, talking as if there would be no tomorrow, and then promising to meet again in six months. "Were you there in Vienna, in December?" she asks him. Nine years have passed, and they have met again in Paris. Jesse wrote a novel about their long night together, and at a book signing he looked up, and there she was. They begin to talk again, in a rush, before he must leave to catch his flight back to America.
"Before Sunset" continues the conversation that began in "Before Sunrise" (1995), but at a riskier level. Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) are over 30 now, have made commitments in life, no longer feel as they did in 1995 that everything was possible. One thing they have learned, although they are slow to reveal it, is how rare it is to meet someone you feel an instinctive connection with. They walk out of the bookstore and around the corner and walk, and talk, and the director Richard Linklater films them in long, uninterrupted takes, so that the film feels like it exists in real time.
"Before Sunset" is a remarkable achievement in several ways, most obviously in its technical skill. It is not easy to shoot a take that is six or seven minutes long, not easy for actors to walk through a real city while dealing with dialogue that has been scripted but must sound natural and spontaneous. Yet we accept, almost at once, that this conversation is really happening. There's no sense of contrivance or technical difficulty.
Hawke and Delpy wrote the screenplay themselves, beginning from the characters and dialogue created the first time around by Linklater and Kim Krizan. They lead up to personal details very delicately; at the beginning they talk politely and in abstractions, edging around the topics we (and they) want answers to: Is either one married? Are they happy? Do they still feel that deep attraction? Were they intended to spend their lives together?