“Before Sunset” shines indie love

“Before Sunset”Warner Independent PicturesWritten and directed by Richard LinklaterStarring Ethan Hawke, Julie DelpyRated R3/5 Stars

Film geeks concerned over the “indie” status of Richard Linklater, fear not.

Despite the wild success of Jack Black’s funny faces under Linklater’s direction in “School Of Rock,” the guy behind ’90s staple cinema like “Dazed and Confused,” “Slacker” and most recently “Waking Life” (think Philosophy 2010 on enormous quantities of acid, and you’ll get a slight idea) has not gone the way of the Highly-Paid-Studio-Backed-Buffalo. For everyone else, who could care less about indie status? Some guy who could have sold out didn’t sell out, and that’s a pretty respectable notion.

This wouldn’t be so notable if it weren’t for Linklater’s 1994 feature “Before Sunrise,” in which Jesse (philanderer Ethan Hawke) coerces stranger Celine (then- and still-unknown French actress Julie Delpy) off a train for one night in Vienna and inevitably they fall in love. What made “Before Sunrise” so special, though, wasn’t the electric chemistry between Hawke and Delpy, nor the nothing-is-perfect ending that left their romance open to interpretation.

No, what made “Sunrise” work was the risk in letting loose Linklater’s penchant for crafting witty, intelligent and realistic dialogue for his two unstoppably charismatic leads, and letting these conversations be the central and only base for the film to wrap around. For a romance, and especially a love-at-first-sight story, an element of reality is usually forsaken territory. A far-fetched idea requires far-fetched characters with glitter to work. But “Sunrise” was full of life and remains among the best of its genre since its release.

A sequel, though? The distinction of independence “Sunrise” made from other films was its unique connections with reality-and life, especially romance, often doesn’t have sequels. And the concept of “having a second chance with the one that got away” is just so typical. So goes the idea for “Before Sunset”: Jesse has a run-in with Celine in Paris, 10 years after their night in Vienna, on the last stop promoting the book he wrote about (What else?) his encounter with Celine. Jesse now has a kid, a wife and a career, while Celine has become a flaky and somewhat erratic environmental activist. And they have a little less than 90 minutes before Jesse has to be at the airport for his flight.

Like its predecessor, “Before Sunset” is all conversation sans filler between Jesse and Celine. Even more is that the conversations run in real time: there’s not one second throughout their encounter that we don’t see. For the most part, “Before Sunset” has the same body as “Sunrise.” Does it bleed the same blood? Sometimes. Instead of the philosophical musings and social commentary that the first film had, Jesse and Celine can’t seem to get their mind off their own situation, and it often narrows the scope of Linklater’s ability to nail universal concepts. It also saps things up a bit, too.

The mystique and depth of both characters are faded in some areas. Hawke’s Jesse sometimes feels overexcited and giddier than he should.

Delpy has less to say and more to bitch about, even coming off as semi-bipolar as Celine switches from edgy to loose on a dime. Like a second date, their tendencies are coming out of the woodwork, and the decision to commit to these two just got harder.

Still, there are some pretty great quotes on a decade of changes in the world since they first met (“Thank God you’re not one of those ‘freedom fries’ Americans,” deadpans Delpy in the first 10 minutes), and the nature of relationships and the process of growing up in them all are slick fits for themes. Linklater’s locations in Paris are nothing short of incredible, and his framing for the conversations aren’t overdrawn or disconnected, nor do they test patience.

The charisma and charm of the original’s monologues hasn’t changed a bit, and Hawke and Delpy (who also served as co-collaborators on the script) slip so naturally back into their characters that it becomes hard to draw the line between Jesse and Celine and the actors playing them. There are a few moments of pure gold near the end-Delpy’s Nina Simone impersonation will leave a lasting and memorable impression that you won’t be able to shake hours after.

This is the saving grace of “Before Sunset”: It is, first and foremost, an indie labor of love. Linklater tells a story that has become exclusively his and doesn’t make a serious effort to catch anybody up. Nearly everything is still intact from the first film in obsessive devotion. And questions “Sunrise” left unanswered does fans, like Jesse and Celine, the great pleasure of responding to after waiting 10 years to hear back. And yes, “Before Sunset” is for the fans.

It could stand on more solid ground if it weren’t, though-it goes without saying that seeing “Sunrise” before “Sunset” is probably a good idea, as first-time viewers won’t connect with Jesse and Celine without visiting their history first. Even without it, though, “Sunset” still manages to be smarter, deeper and a little more unusual than the rest of the pack. And in line with his history, Linklater once again does the same thing for his career. Way to make a point, Rick.

[email protected]