Incidental Acts of Spontaneous Cerebral Violence

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

I searched throughout Vienna for my own Celine to no avail

I loved "Before Sunrise" despite the fact that I saw it on a very bad date at the horrendous Golf Glen. There was nothing quite like it: two attractive, distinct, well-written characters "meet cute" on the train and have what amounts to the perfect day and evening exploring Vienna and each other. It worked as a date movie, a travelogue, a psychological study and a Gen-X relationship primer. It hardly qualifies as a great cinematic achievement, but it was perfect at what it was.

When I read that Linklater was reuniting the characters in "Before Sunset," I was thrilled to no end. I was doubly excited when I read that the film will be the Centerpiece Gala at the upcoming 2004 LA Film Festival.*

I have had a fantastic crush on Julie Delpy (or, maybe, more correctly, Celine) dating back to "Before Sunrise." Although she is an omnipresent fixture throughout LA, I have never been able to shake my image of her as Celine (no matter how scruffy she may appear around town). In my mind, she inhabits the role.

The Times’ movie preview, has a wonderful piece by Karen Durbin profiling several foreign actors, including Delpy, who will be “stealing scenes” this summer:

In Richard Linklater's "Before Sunset,” a young Parisian named Celine (Julie Delpy) informs an American writer, Jesse (Ethan Hawke), who's heading back to New York, that she's turned her back on romance. "I have still a lot of dreams, just not in regard to my love life any more," she says briskly. "It doesn't make me sad, it's just the way it is." Those last words come out in a subdued shriek, as if she's daring him to contradict her. Three minutes of verbal dueling later, Jesse is planted on her sofa looking anguished and joyful. She sits on the bed, strumming a guitar and singing him a waltz she wrote about a long-ago "one-night thing": theirs. The lyrics are light and rueful, like Ms. Delpy's voice. Then she reaches the punch line. "My heart will stay yours until I die," she sings; and because neither her tone nor her expression changes, the nakedness of the declaration takes your breath away.

Aided by the slightly acid chemistry between his actors, Mr. Linklater's new film makes a witty and convincing case for romantic love, not as a narcissistic dream but as a form of valuable intelligence. "Before Sunset" (July 2) is also a reminder of what an underused resource Ms. Delpy is; smart, gifted and, at 31, more beautiful than ever, she deserves a place on every director's A list, not just his.

Ms. Delpy's confident, unadorned screen style is a refreshing alternative to the perky-versus-pouty choices on offer these days from too many young French actresses. She delivers Celine's intricate, emotionally conflicted dialogue (much of which she wrote herself) with deceptive ease, and you see that Jesse loves her not least for her quickness of mind. In this candid, funny, deeply moving portrait, Ms. Delpy shows us a passionate woman marooned by her own self-sufficiency and using everything she's got to break free.
If you haven’t seen “Before Sunrise,” do it before “Before Sunset.” You will want to meet Jesse and Celine as they once were to best appreciate what (and who) they have become. A friend sent me the script of “Before Sunset,” but it remains unread. Like all of the suspense thriller screenplays I refuse to read, I don’t want what’s on the page to minimize the impact of what I see on the screen. As much as “Before Sunrise” and (I assume) “Before Sunset” strive to be viewed as contemporary studies of romantic intellectual discourse, it’s their visceral impact that ultimately make them resonant and timeless.

*It is truly an amazing festival lineup: not only is “Before Sunset” the Centerpiece, but “Garden State” is the Opening Night Gala (yes, I may finally meet her) and “The Clearing” is the Closing Night Gala.

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