THERE is a reason why Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy never kiss in Before Sunset.
And if that means nothing to you, this column possibly isn’t for you. You either care about these details – and that a sequel, Before Midnight, is out next year – or you don’t.
A quick recap, anyway. In the 1995 film Before Sunrise, Hawke and Delpy are Jesse and Celine, two youngsters who meet on a train from Budapest to Paris. There is an obvious spark between these strangers, one American, one French, and so, on a whim, they get off the train at Vienna and spend a long night ambling around the city, discussing life, the universe and everything.
By the time the sun comes up, they are in love. The film ends on a cliffhanger – will they stick to their plan to meet in the same place, six months later?
That question was answered nine years later, in 2004’s Before Sunset.
It’s a sadder and, fittingly, more grown-up film. Jesse and Celine are now damaged thirtysomethings. He is trying to make a loveless marriage work for the sake of his young son. She is in the latest of a string of so-so relationships. Reunited in Paris, the spark still there, both come to suspect that in not fully understanding – and grabbing – the opportunity presented to them nine years before, they may have ruined their lives.
Did they though? This is the film’s big unanswered question. The cleverest thing about Before Sunset is that it unpicks the romantic idealism of the first film. How do they know the spark wouldn’t have burned out over a long relationship, as so often happens in real life? Aren’t they living in a fantasy?
It’s a very poignant and erotic film, and part of the reason is that Jesse never kisses Celine. If he does, fantasy becomes messy reality.
Will Jesse get a divorce? Will Celine be a stepmum? Since all these questions are unanswered, the question the first film raises – if you met your perfect soulmate, how quickly could you know for sure? – is left hanging, just in a different way.
The two films bookend each other so well that it’s difficult to imagine where Before Midnight can go. Hawke has said it will bring the story to a conclusion. That worries me. What’s great about the first two films is their lack of conclusion. But it’s still the film I’m most looking forward to next year.
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