directed by Richard Linklater
Guest Butler Marc Cutillo is a graphic designer for Design 446 in Manasquan, New Jersey.
I've come to praise one of the greatest love stories ever told.
Back in 1996, writer-director Richard Linklater made Before Sunrise. In 2003, he again drew on his romantic experiences and released a sequel, Before Sunset. These are two of cinema's finest romantic films --- and they met with nary a peep from mainstream critics.
Linklater's films are all over the map --- they include the slacker comedy "Dazed and Confused", the kid-friendly "School of Rock" and the eat-to-live "Fast Food Nation". In the “before” films, he strikes consistent gold. And he does it with a cast of just two; these films star the largely underrated Ethan Hawke and the largely unknown Julie Delpy, both giving the performances of their lives.
The plots couldn't be simpler. In "Before Sunrise", two twenty-something strangers --- one American, one Parisian --- meet while traveling the Eurorail. They have a short conversation. A spark develops. Charming guy persuades innocent girl to stop short of her destination for an afternoon in Vienna. Afternoon turns to night, the 'magical evening' together ensues and when morning and reality arrive, they are faced with the inevitable question. "So what do we do now?" End movie. Simplicity beckons greatness.
The magic in "Before Sunrise" doesn't lie in the idea. Twenty-four hour romances play out daily from teenage spring breaks to senior getaway cruises. The magic lies in the movie's unorthodox yet pitch-perfect execution, dialogue, and even more in the palpable on-screen chemistry between Jesse (Hawke) and Celine (Delpy). Boundaries between fiction and documentary become blurred as you watch this romantic excursion unfold in real time. You share the awkward moments of being in close quarters with someone you are madly attracted to -- the fear of talking too much, the shy looks, and, of course, the trepidation of a first kiss.
As Jesse and Celine open up to one another, you start seeing what makes them tick. Their insecurities, quirks, and stories come forth with such innocence. You can't help but smile as you're reminded of your own young love.
Making such a trite storyline look original and engaging is no easy task. Another director might try to dominate it, or undercut it with irony. Linklater delivers through his honesty. Infused drama, surprise plot twists, acoustic guitar montages--- gone, gone and gone.
This film works in the most basic way: making us relate by making us care. The art here is emotion laid bare. It doesn't come up and hit you in the face. It takes you by the hand until you begin to see your own self walking the romantic streets of Europe.
Despite the open-ended conclusion of "Before Sunrise", there is a feeling of closure. You needn't know whether Jesse and Celine wind up together to appreciate their falling-in-love story. With that in mind, the thought of watching a sequel mere minutes after the original worried me.
"Before Sunset" picks up nine years --- in both storyline and reality --- after the first meeting. Jesse is now an up-and-coming author and Celine a passionate environmentalist. An ocean separates them. So Celine's appearance at Jesse's book signing in Paris comes as a surprise to him. And a cab will take him to the airport in only an hour.
Sixty minutes to play catch-up. Sixty minutes for a decision ten years in the making. Sixty minutes for us to hope Celine and Jesse take advantage of what most of us never get or, when we do, let pass by --- a second chance.
Without giving away too much, their situation is both remarkably different and remarkably the same. Of course time, responsibility and reality have changed the two GenXers; the innocent discussions of nine years ago are now heavier thoughts. Still, a few wrinkles in appearance and attitude can't erase what is blatantly obvious --- nine years apart have only deepened their feelings for one another.
Again, the movie progresses in real time, adding to the excitement and tension. By the end of the 60 minutes, I was totally involved with the fate of these two characters. I saw how the world and reality and responsibility collide violently with the idealistic view of soul mates. I saw the toll time takes on love. And --- gulp --- I saw how certain love never dies.
My three-hour tryst with these two films will most assuredly be different from yours. It's not that there are any hidden meanings for you to decipher, but watching such an honest picture of love unfold and receive a rare second chance leaves a unique fingerprint on your psyche. Just be warned: These movies may redefine your idea of true love.
--- Guest Butler Marc Cutillo is a graphic designer for Design 446 in Manasquan, New Jersey.
To buy “Before Sunrise” from Amazon.com, click here.
To buy “Before Sunset” from Amazon.com, click here.
To rent these movies from Blockbuster.com, click here.
To buy “Before Sunrise & Before Sunset: Two Screenplays” from Amazon.com, click here.