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Before Sunset - We're trying to talk about the nature of relationships more than we are specifics

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 two characters."

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 Life.

"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 send something.

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 very realistic."

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