There is a certain individual who shall remain nameless who falsely represents himself as “a soft touch”. He describes himself this way despite it being plainly obvious to even the most casual observer that he’s a cynical bastard with a heart of stone. Not me though. Unlike that pretender, I’m a big ol’ softie and a born romantic. I’m probably the most romantic guy you know. I’m shameless in my dedication to romance. Doubt my love of all things romantic? Just take a look at the previous entries on this list. The Descent, Bad Santa, The Hurt Locker, Requiem for a Dream. If anything yells romance it’s films featuring a woman with a Santa fetish, or two chicks and a dildo.
All joking aside, I do like a good romance. Note is said ‘good’, and not the condescending garbage invariably starring Golden Globe winner Sandy Bollocks (she’s just as irritating), that treat their audience as though they are idiots. No, the ones I like create real characters, put them in recognisable or believable situations and resolve their story with intelligence and insight. You know, like ‘Notting Hill’. *sigh* Obviously, there aren’t many romantic films I do actually like.
As a red blooded teenager I took quite a fancy to pocket dynamo Winona Ryder. As a result I subjected myself to quite a number of absolute stinkers (‘Mermaids’ for fucks sake!?). She did me no favours, but I soldiered on. All in the name of ogling. With the onslaught of images you can stumble across on the interwebs just by googling for Tremors related ‘ass blasters’, ogling is becoming a dying art. Such a shame. Anyhoo, some time in 1995 I rented ‘Reality Bites’. While enjoying one of Winona’s very rare non-period based films, I noticed a greasy haired layabout who I kind of recognised. Looking at the end credits I saw his name was Ethan Hawke and a bit of investigation in Leonard Maltins Movie Guide (Oh the days before internets) I worked out that I was remembering ‘Dead Poets Society’. Hawkes character in ‘Reality Bites’ was an intelligent, narcissistic asshole who thought pretty highly of himself. But with added soft side. Being a teenage wannabe version of all those things already, I identified with him. I could see myself being this guy in five or six years. Dropped out of Uni. No job. Slacking about all day. Smoking too much. In some shitty band as a way of excusing my being on the express train to Loserville. (Good to see that didn’t happen! *sigh*) Yeah, I liked this guy. Okay, time to wrap up this longwinded, tedious anecdote. So, a few months later I noticed a new release at the video store called ‘Before Sunrise’, and on the cover it had that very same greasy haired layabout getting it on with another hot chick. Of course I rented it immediately.
That was my first encounter with Jesse and Celine.
‘Before Sunrise’ was nothing like I expected. It was a sweet, intelligent, dialogue driven film about two people in their early 20’s who meet on a train and get off together to spend one night walking around Vienna. The two characters, Jesse (Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) were funny, intelligent and interesting. Therefore they were completely different to 99% of other characters their age. Their whole future was ahead of them and their lives were full of hope. Since Jesse has to go back the America, and Celine back to Paris, at the end of the film they agree to meet six months later at the same spot, at the train station in Vienna.
In ‘Before Sunset’ it’s nine years later and Jesse is in Paris on the last leg of his book tour. The book in question tells the story of two strangers that meet on a train, and spend a night together in Vienna. At the end of his book signing he sees Celine. It’s the first time since that one night. They didn’t meet up again in Vienna. They walk around Paris, catching up and finding out what happened, and why they didn’t meet back up.
The ‘Before Sunrise/Sunset’ series really is simplicity in itself. Two characters, an attractive, romantic locale and a whole lot of good conversation. What’s amazing about this film is the way that the two characters have recognisably changed, evolved, lost, gained and lived in the nine years between their encounters. They are at once the same people as before, but time and life has shaped them, as it does in real life. I’ve never seen a sequel evolve characters so well.
‘Sunset’ begins quickly. It assumes you’ve seen ‘Sunrise’ and are familiar with Jesse and Celine. There are references to the first film that go unexplained and will not have any significance if you haven’t seen it. I’m not ashamed to say that I love these two characters, and was pretty disappointed to hear that there was even a sequel being made, because I assumed that would mean that they didn’t meet up again. As the movie states at the start, you are either a romantic or a cynic. Romantics believe they meet up again, while cynics don’t. As has already been well established, I’m a romantic. A soft touch, so to speak.
But once Jesse and Celine are together, walking and talking my disappointment fell away and I remembered how invested I am in these two. I was nine years older than when I first saw them, and I had grown as well. While I was about five years younger than the characters, a lot of what they experienced, what they thought and how they had grown and changed rang true for me. Sometimes you just watch a movie that seems tailor made just for you. ‘Before Sunrise/ Sunset’ are movies for me. I’ve recommended them to countless people who “don’t get it”, or are “bored”. It might be that I have grown alongside the two characters, and are more responsive to how that characters have evolved. I don’t know. The personal nature of the films for me also make it difficult to explain clearly why I like them so much. Which explains this rambling review.
The film ends kind of perfectly. It’s not one of those clichéd Hollywood endings. Real life doesn’t feature the guy running halfway across town in the pouring rain because his car won’t start to stop the girl getting on the bus that will take her away from town forever, and reaching it just as the doors close and making a speech in front of a group of strangers about how much she means to him and how they’ve been best friends for so long he couldn’t see it until now that he loves her, and they embrace and the other passengers and the bus driver all applaud while Lifehouse swells on the soundtrack. No real life doesn’t work like that. If it did my check before leaving the house would be keys, wallet, phone, shotgun.
Directed by Richard Linklater and written by Linklater, Hawke and Delpy, ‘Before Sunset’ is a wonderful film about two people who missed an opportunity, have regretted it, and are cautious about opening themselves up to being vulnerable again. It’s about how life can take you in unexpected directions, and how when you make a connection with someone special, you should grab that opportunity with both hands.
The list so far…
#8 – Avatar (2009)
#9 – Requiem for a Dream (2001)
#10 – The Descent (2005)
#11 – Unbreakable (2000)
#12 – Best in Show (2000)
#13 – Open Range (2003)
#14 – The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
#15 – Bad Santa (2003)
#16 – The Hurt Locker (2009)
#17 – Where The Wild Things Are (2009)
#18 – Kingdom of Heaven (2005) Directors Cut
#19 – High Fidelity (2000)
#20 – Friday Night Lights (2004)
#21 – Frequency (2000)