December 19, 2013 -- It has been a while since I saw the first two films in this trilogy, “Before Sunrise” (1994) and “Before Sunset” (2004) but my recollection is they were a lot more romantic than this film, which is dominated by an intense argument. At the climax of the argument, the wife (this is a common law marriage rather than a formal one) tells her husband that she doesn't think she loves him any more and walks out the door.
This film, like those first two, was written and directed by Richard Linklater (“A Scanner Darkly”) and it stars Ethan Hawke as Jesse and Julie Delpy as Celine, two modern lovers in Europe. The two latest films in this trilogy were co-written by Hawke and Delpy. In this film, we find that Jesse and Celine are being pulled apart by their career ambitions and their emotional baggage.
The trouble in this relationship starts right away when Jesse's son from a previous marriage, Hank (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick of “Moonrise Kingdom”) has to go back to the U.S. to live with his mother. Jesse feels guilty about not being a bigger part of his son's life. There is talk about going to live in America. Celine rebels at this idea. She wants to advance her career in Europe.
Since Jesse is a writer, the move to the states would be a lot easier for him than it would be for the rest of the family. This discussion doesn't get very far before Celine brings up the feminist issues of doing a lot of domestic work which is hampering her career. Eventually, the discussion gets down to infidelity. It gets pretty intense, in part, because their two daughters, Ella and Nina (Jennifer Prior and Charlotte Prior) are not with them. Their friends have arranged for the girls to be cared for while Jesse and Celine enjoy a fancy hotel room they have arranged for them.
All of this takes place in the Peloponnese region of Greece, but this film doesn't invoke a sense of place in the way the first two films of this series did. Jesse and Celine walk amid the ancient streets and enjoy outdoor dinner conversations with friends before they end up alone for their big argument, which actually began hours earlier in the car with the two girls asleep in the back. These discussions around the table are far ranging, delving into the nature of modern love, marriage and sex. There is a discussion of internet sex and virtual sex.
One of the more poignant conversations is about lost love. An elderly woman talks at the dinner table about how she is starting to forget her late husband. How he appears to her, almost as a ghost, at night but vanishes in the daylight. There are several couples around the table ranging from very young to middle age. They talk about the compromises of marriage and the differences between men and women.
This is a very talky film. It is constructed almost entirely from dialog, and the dialog is elegant and natural sounding most of the time. In a couple of places, however, the talk sounds a bit phony and out of place. The acting is excellent throughout. This film explores the complexities and complications of modern love and life in an international setting.
I could not help but feeling at the end, however, that Jesse and Celine are just going through the motions in this story. Both of them are rational people who had been together for years. These people know this argument they are having is pointless. No matter what they decide, they will have to make sacrifices and there is no perfect solution to their problems, yet they tear each other apart anyway. This is an argument for the sake of having an argument.
There is a kind of resolution to this argument they are having, but it is rushed, inadequate and it comes in the last few minutes of the film. This sort of ending is fashionable these days, but it is also very thin and not as elegant as the conversations in the rest of the film. This film rates a B.
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