When we last saw Jesse and Celine in Before Sunrise, they had just parted ways in Vienna while promising each other to meet again in six months. In the exquisite sequel, Before Sunset, nine years have passed, and Jesse, now a successful writer, is in Paris for the last stop of his book tour (the book, incidentally, is about an unforgettable night in Vienna with a certain French girl). A few hours before his flight home, he sees Celine, and the two spend what limited time they have together before he has to get on the plane.
If Before Sunrise was wonderfully innocent and whimsical, Sunset turns out to be no less romantic but also heartbreakingly sad. While Jesse and Celine are still wildly attracted to each other, both have grown more cynical and guarded in their outlook. It is revealed that Celine never showed up in Vienna to fulfill their pledge, but only because the date coincided with her beloved grandmother’s funeral. Now Jesse is married, although unhappily, and Celine is scarred from her dead-end relationships. Jesse confesses that on the way to his wedding, he looked out the car window and saw someone who looked like Celine. It turns out that it probably was her, because she was studying in New York at that time. The weight of what-if questions hang in the air.
After the first few minutes of tentatively rediscovering each other, Jesse and Celine slip back into the unique rapport which characterized their interaction in Vienna. Only now they are more careful, a result of the wounds they have receivedin the past few years. You can’t help but ache for both of them, who are so obviously made for each other that it seems unbearable that they have to part again in a few hours. There is a sense of urgency in Sunset, a rush to say all the things that need to be said and to make the most out of every moment. As in Sunrise, the dialogue is complex, intelligent and utterly spontaneous, and the chemistry between Hawke and Delpy is no less superb.
The clock continues ticking, and Jesse and Celine have to end another fleeting, intense encounter. Their last few moments are spellbinding to watch – you can almost taste the regret in the atmosphere. The long, silent walk up the stairs to Celine’s apartment where she sings for him, the unspoken questions, the ambiguous conclusion – the ending is as perfect as it could get.
Memories are wonderful things if you don’t have to deal with the past. – Celine