A word of warning – this film is the third in a trilogy and it’s nigh impossible to discuss it without giving spoilers for the first two.
It’s also highly likely that you’ll only really get the full emotional impact of it if you watched the first two, and if you liked them also.
Before Sunrise, the 1995 first instalment, introduced us to Jesse and Celine (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) as they meet on a train in Austria on the last night before Jesse heads back to the States. He persuades Celine to spend his last night in Vienna with him and they walk and talk through the night, deciding to meet a year later to see if they can make their incipient love affair permanent.
Before Sunset catches up with them nine years later. Jesse is a successful author, on the back of a fictionalised account of that magical evening, though Celine never turned up on the agreed anniversary. At a book signing in Paris, Celine does make an appearance and they again spend what time Jesse has left in Paris together to see if they can reconnect, though Jesse is now married with a son.
And so to the latest film. It begins with Jesse seeing off his now teenage son, Hank, at an airport as he returns to his mother. Jesse’s ex-wife, it soon transpires, has never really recovered from the divorce and is not only bitter with him but may also be alcoholic (we hear this in conversation between Jesse and Celine, not an unbiased source, so this may not be true). Jesse returns to the car where Celine waits with their two infant daughters. They are staying in the idyllic Greek house of a famous British author for six weeks, as Jesse has continued his success as an author and is now well regarded in academia, and this is their last day before returning to Paris where they now live.
Jesse is unhappy that he is missing (has missed) his son’s childhood and wonders aloud about returning to the US for a couple of years, just to catch what he can of Hank’s remaining childhood. Celine is unwilling to leave France as she knows that Jesse’s worries about Hank reappear every year and are too late to really now make a difference, and she has the opportunity for a new job that is important to her sense of self-worth, as she feels undervalued. This starts an argument that simmers throughout the rest of the film.
Unlike the first two films, there is a supporting cast that gets significant screen time, which makes sense. Jesse and Celine’s lives are no longer entirely their own and they can’t be quite so selfish as previously. The various couples we meet also reflect on our couple’s past, present and future possibilities and allow a more natural discussion of various themes that have arisen in all three films. Yet the film only really takes off once their friends look after the children for the night, sending Jesse and Celine for a ‘romantic’ evening alone in a hotel.
Alone together for the first time in years, they get to talk, as they used to, and as we watched them previously, but resentments and problems that have been buried in the business of everyday life come to the surface and it is not clear that their relationship can last.
Delpy and Hawke have been given co-writing credits on this film and I wonder if the tone of the film, much more melancholy than previously, is a product of this, or whether it is simply a natural and inevitable result of the circumstances of their relationship and age.
It’s beautiful, and I want to re-watch the first film, particularly, again though it won’t be for everyone. There is almost no plot and lots of talking – a film of relationships and ideas.