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Before Sunset

It's tempting to classify this 2004 sequel to Richard Linklater's unusual, indelible 1995 Gen-X love story Before Sunrise as a well-made TV reunion special. Even though Before Sunrise was only a modest, low-budget, 105-minute sleeper, to its stalwart fans it indelibly captured the spark of romantic chemistry. In a good way, it seemed to last hours, as if chronicling the brief relationship of Jessie (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) in real-time, from their tentative meeting as strangers on a Vienna train until their tearful pledge to reunite, six months later at the very same spot, the next morning. Their time together was less than day, but it was intimately and thoroughly explored and seemed to encapsulate a lifetime of hope, dreams, yearning, trust, and potential, and the question provoked by Before Sunrise's open ending — Will Jessie and Celine meet again? — expertly and movingly embodied the film's bittersweet sense of spontaneity, wonder, and possibility. Given the pleading timelessness of Before Sunrise's finale, the follow-up Before Sunset feels, at times, like an obligatory-but-anticlimactic catching-up with intimately familiar long-lost friends, reuniting director Linklater with stars Hawke and Delpy (the three share writing credit) for a mostly unnecessary reprise that, while done as well as imaginable, both dishearteningly answers that lingering question and poses a few new unanswered questions of its own. Before Sunset, actually, is nearly filmed in real time, as Celine and Jessie spend just over an hour together walking through Paris, nine years older and now looking at their lives from the more cynical perspective of their early 30s. To their credit, Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy knowingly mirror Before Sunset's flaws in its narrative: the dispiriting sense of knowing what the first film left a mystery is echoed in Jessie and Celine's wizened interactions, and the prosaic deflation of Before Sunrise's ideal one-night-fling similarly haunts and obsesses the characters's older selves. Hawke and Delpy are still very good together, and very believable as characters who have become increasingly autobiographical, but the quirks that originally made the couple endearing necessarily have worn through, making them less appealing as adults. Like running into any old, once-close friend idealized from one's youth, Before Sunset is comforting and yet awkward and disappointing as reality sets in, and maybe tells us things we don't want to know. In that way, Before Sunset is just as good as its predecessor — but, hardened by the years in between, it will never capture the magic that made the first film a classic, and might possibly even lessen Before Sunrise's original power. Warner presents the film in a good anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. This disc includes a brief "On the Set" featurette. Trailer, keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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