Before Sunset (4/10)
2004 by Tony Medley
Sitting through this
film made me realize, once again, what a remarkably good film My
Dinner With Andre (1981) was. That consisted entirely of Wally
(Wallace Shawn) having dinner with his old friend Andre (Andre Gregory).
Itís mostly Wally listening and Andre talking. Sounds dreadful. Itís
brilliant. The two actors are so good that you could watch them have
their dinner endlessly. Andre
is a raconteur deluxe. Directed by Louis Malle and written by
Shawn and Gregory, itís a tour de force.
Then thereís Before
Sunset. It has a lot in common with ĎAndre, in that two of
its three writers were the two stars, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy (who
also wrote three songs; the third writer is Director Richard Linklater),
and it consists entirely of conversation between Jesse (Hawke), a writer
returning to Paris for a book tour, and Celine (Delpy), with whom he
spent a one night stand nine years previously, documented in
Linklaterís Before Sunrise (1995). She shows up at a roundtable
for his book and they go for coffee and take a walk through Paris. There
the similarities with ĎAndre end.
I got a feeling for
the quality of this film during Jesseís roundtable with writers at the
outset when Linklater throws in a clumsy reverse. I hate reverses when I
have to watch them on TV interviews where theyíre inserted only to
prove that the superstar TV reporter is really there asking questions
and with only one camera a reverse is the only way; but in a movie? How
Before Sunset is
shot in real time. Jesse has 80 minutes before he has to leave to catch
his plane and thatís how long the movie lasts. Because the film takes
place in real time in the late afternoon, that was the only time they
could shoot. Says Linklater, ďItís like, ĎOK, weíve got the
light for two hours. Go!í Boom. We do the scene. You have a certain
amount of time, limited time. Go.Ē So there couldnít be lots of
takes, which put pressure on the actors to do clean takes.
The problem starts
with the fact that I detected not one iota of chemistry between Jesse
and Celine. When thereís chemistry, there is a lot of eye play between
the two. There are furtive glances, occasional catching and holding of
the eyes, all wordless, but speaking volumes. In a real life situation,
where she shows up surprising him after nine years, there would be some
awkwardness and some shy eye play. Thereís none of that here.
My opinion is that
Hawke just isnít up to playing romantic leads. He was dismal in Taking
Lives (2004), which required chemistry between his character and
Angelina Jolie in order to make the movie work. It wasnít there and
the movie was a bomb. He was good in Training Day (2001) but he
didnít have to work with a woman.
There were two
things that I particularly detested about this film. The first was the
smoking scene. While theyíre having coffee she lights up and then he
does, too. I donít think two people sitting there blowing smoke in
each otherís face is romantic. Given all the disease that smoking
causes, and the epidemic of nicotine addiction, especially among the
impressionable young, there is no justifiable reason for filmmakers to
include smoking in scenes, other than to glorify it. I think itís
despicable when filmmakers insert these gratuitous scenes apotheosizing
The second is the
moral ambivalence about the importance of the family unit and personal
responsibility. Jesse has a wife and a four-year-old son and heís
apparently willing to destroy his sonís happy family life so he can
hook up with this woman heís only known for a total of 9 hours or so.
His ďhappinessĒ is more important.
the uninvolving dialogue, the uninspired directing, and the deficient
acting, itís mercifully short at 80 minutes. There are some cute
lines. The ambience of Paris is captured fairly well. Thatís about all
I can say on the plus side.
June 18, 2004