Feature by: Jack Foley
WHEN Before Sunrise was released, in 1995, critics hailed the
movie as the most unconventional of love stories - an evening
unwinding through the eyes of two strangers experiencing a foreign
city and each other for the first time.
For audiences, the film recalled the intoxicating promise of
youth, in which two people could get off a train unexpectedly
to spend an evening talking about everything under the stars.
It also posed one of the great unanswered questions of recent
film romances - did they meet again?
The optimists, or romantics, probably dreamt that they did; the
sceptics had fun arguing that they didn’t. Now, the sequel,
Before Sunset, promises to reveal the truth.
Commenting on the allure of the original, director, Richard Linklater,
said: "It was sort of an anti-Hollywood romance. In a simple
way, it's a romance for realists. We're trying to capture something
that's realistic - closer to something that maybe happened in
your own life than in a movie.
"I think the people who connect with it have the same connection
that we feel, and that's why we're continuing to explore these
More than perhaps any other film Linklater had made up to that
point, the film's documentary-like feel particularly resonated
through the relationship of Jesse and Celine, which held remarkably
true to the rhythms and subtleties of actual romantic encounters.
"To my mind, our characters are like the archetypal male/female,"
comments Hawke. "We're trying to talk about the nature of
relationships more than we are specifics. We never see them in
the context of their day-to-day life. We're just catching them
in these little glimpses."
Prior to making the first film, Linklater sent Hawke a letter
explaining ‘the idea that he had never been involved with
the same kind of action, drama or violence that gets depicted
in so many movies, but that his life felt full of drama’,
remembers Hawke, who has appeared in five Linklater films - Before
Sunrise and its sequel as well as The Newton Boys, Tape and Waking
"He wanted to try to make a movie about what it was like
to really connect with somebody," Hawke continues. "And
that's been the mission statement of both these films, just to
create drama out of the ordinary nature of life."
"It was very intimate, poetic and special," comments
producer Anne Walker-McBay, who has worked with Linklater since
his first film. "It felt, at the time, like we were doing
something really unique, that hadn't quite been done before.
"It also felt like what made the film successful is that
it was such a universal experience. Everyone's had something like
that happen, and that's what we were trying to capture with the
first Sunrise, that moment when you meet somebody and something
really incredible happens to you."
Since completing Before Sunrise, principals Hawke, Julie Delpy
and Linklater long mused about the possibility of a sequel, or
even an entire series of films.
"The dream of doing this movie started when we were doing
the first one," comments Hawke. "Wouldn't it be interesting
to meet these characters again in a number of years?
"Then you'd have this giant document on love and on relationships
following two actors through the course of their life. That's
the dream. But it's fun to come back to a character. It's also
a way of checking in with yourself and how you've changed."
For Delpy, having no resolution to the two characters' promise
on the platform felt like something unfinished in her own life.
"It's such an open ending,"
she says. "Having this ending with them leaving each other
felt like something was missing in our lives, in a weird way,
some place missing inside of us. It was a wonderful thing to be
able now to do it."
For all of the players, the characters of Jesse and Celine continued
to live in their minds, and each time they'd see one another,
they'd discuss where to take them.
Though a myriad of possibilities presented themselves over the
years, the idea emerged of doing a film in real time - an hour
and a half in the lives of Jesse and Celine.
"That's when we knew we'd found the right idea for it,"
comments Hawke. "We wanted to take the whole idea of a slice-of-life
to a new, heightened degree."
Following Delpy and Hawke's cameo in Linklater's 2001 film,
Waking Life, their plans cemented even further, and the trio banged
out a detailed outline during several days in Los Angeles.
Next, they exchanged ideas and dialogue over email, followed
by more meetings in New York and Los Angeles.
"We all felt pregnant with the idea for a while," says
Hawke. "Rick would say, 'Try to write on this subject, try
to write on that subject,' and then one day Julie busted out a
ton of dialogue and that got us going."
"I started getting e-mails, these wonderful monologues,
from Julie for her character," remembers Linklater. "Julie's
an incredible writer and thinker, and some of these things she'd
send would be so funny, real and profound. And then Ethan would
This film is coming from a deep place for all of us, but particularly
for Julie and Ethan. They've dug into themselves so much as writers."
Before Sunrise left the two characters at a train station with
a promise to meet six months later. Before Sunset picks up a little
more than nine years later, at a bookstore in Paris.
"Before Sunrise follows these two young people who meet
on a train and just spend one night together," explains Hawke.
"But it's so magical and powerful that at the end, they decide
they'd rather not write and keep in touch. They're worried that
it'll just become ordinary if they do that.
"Instead, they decide they're just going to meet again in
six months to the day. And that's how the first film ends. The
second film starts nine years later and my character has written
a book about that one night. And she shows up at his book reading."
"They both have their own lives," adds Delpy. "They've
grown along very different paths, and now they're more complex,
in a way. In Before Sunrise, they were living in this fantasy
of being young and seeing the future. But now, it's all about
living in the moment."
Once the reading is over, Jesse has only limited time before
he's expected to check in at the airport for his flight back to
New York. Celine, who lives in Paris, agrees to spend that time
having coffee with him at a café she knows.
"He has written a novel; he's on his last book tour and
he's leaving that night," comments Linklater, "so the
time frame is compressed even more. This movie takes place more
or less in real time. You get this 85 minute encounter between
them before he gets a ride to the airport."
With time running short, the two engage in a complex dialogue
about life, love, how they've changed, the world, and anything
else that occurs to them.
"To me, it's just an examination of how your life proceeds,"
says Linklater. "All we can do is live forward and you just
do the best with everything around you. It's very much the way
the first film was - just a moment in time.
"Before Sunrise was roughly 14 or 15 hours in these two
people's lives at a random intersection in a town neither of them
lived in. In that film, to me, they were sort of like ghosts in
this city that they didn't really belong to, almost in their own
world, this ethereal world of their own imagination.
"This movie is very much about and takes place in the real
world. It's Paris. She lives in Paris. It's her world, and it's