Possibly the final installment of the brilliant series of films that began with Before Sunrise (1995) and continued nine years later with Before Sunset (2004) … but there’s nothing except fatal accident or illness or disinterest on the part of one of the creators to prevent there being a fourth movie in another nine years.
In the first movie Julie Delpy as French Celine meets Ethan Hawke as American Jesse on a train and they spend one night together, and separate the next morning. They agree to meet again in six months. In the second, they encounter each other again nine years later in Paris, and have a day to realize they made a mistake when they separated. Celine didn’t make the rendezvous because of a death in the family, and they knew of no way to contact each other. So Jesse went home and married, had a son. He wrote a book based on their night together, and it became a bestseller. He’s on a book tour, when Celine shows up. But he has to board a plane in a very short time. They talk some more, and by the end they both know he’s not going to leave. They were meant for each other. It’s wonderfully romantic.
Both of the first two were about two people talking, getting to know each other, then getting to know each other better nine years later. The third film is all about talk, too. The takes are very, very long, and you get the impression that it’s improvised, but it’s not. It was all carefully scripted, written by the director of all three pictures, Richard Linklater, and by Delpy and Hawke.
It unfolds more or less like a three-act play. There’s a brief introduction with Jesse putting his son on a plane after a summer vacation at a writer’s fabulous old home on a Greek Island. Jesse is consumed with guilt that he had to give up the boy in a bitter divorce. He and Celine drive from the airport with their beautiful young twin daughters in the back seat, asleep. They talk about some of the issues in their life together, the new job she wants to take, how horrible his ex-wife is, how he wants his son back. This is a long, long scene, fifteen minutes or more, with no cuts.
Then they are at lunch with the writer and some others, and the conversation is sparkling. There are subtle hints that things may not be entirely rosy between Jesse and Celine. These hints are expanded a bit as they take a long, one-take walk from the house to the hotel where they will be spending a romantic night. And then in the last act it all explodes into anger and recriminations.
It is a polarizing movie. Critics were all but unanimous in praising it to the skies, as they did the first two. The three writers were nominated for an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay (12 Years a Slave won). Viewer comments at Metacritic and IMDb were mostly positive … but a few gave it one star and generally felt it was the most boring movie they had ever seen. “Fell asleep.” “Walked out.” “My wife hated it, too.” “Nothing happened!!!” Like that. There were very few that didn’t give it either a 10 or a 1. Well, folks, if you think that observing a marriage in danger of falling apart, and listening to some of the best dialogue you will hear this year, and some of the best acting, means nothing happened, I urge you to return to movies based on video games, like The Need For Speed, in theaters as I write this. Lee and I adored this movie. I wish with all my heart that this creative team will get together in 2022 and make a fourth film, when they are fifty and their girls are about to graduate high school. You better believe I’d go see it.