In 1995, director Richard Linklater ("Dazed and Confused") helmed a small picture about two people walking around in Vienna. The two people were Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) - he convinced her, a complete stranger, to step off the train and enjoy the sights with him. One romantic night later, the two said an emotional farewell to each other.
The film was not a success theatrically when it was originally released, but it became a cult hit on video when it came out soon after. The film gathered more fans over the years, and a lot of people wondered when happened to Jesse and Celine, since the first film sort of left things up in the air. This time around, Jesse is on a book tour with his latest effort, which presents a pretty real account of his encounter with Celine. In a small shop in Paris, he suddenly finds himself face-to-face with her.
The two have a desire to catch up and Jesse realizes that he has some time before his next flight out, asking her to show him around the city. The two chat about their proposed "meeting" that was to take place after their meeting and what happened. He reveals that he's found someone else - he's married and has a child. She continues to be an activist and has a boyfriend.
Once again, the two chat and laugh and remember their way through their hours together, discussing everything from their night together to the state of the world to intimacy. The underlying topic, however, is how both wonder what may have been had they gotten together. Jesse's marriage isn't going well, and despite Celine's reminders that he has a flight to catch, he just wants a little while longer. She has had other relationships, but still thinks about him.
As with "Sunrise", the dialogue seems natural and fairly real, as do the performances. Hawke and Delpy still have the same great chemistry that they did in the first film, and the two performers actually seem better here, more mature. The film nicely slides between being funny and a little more dramatic and thoughtful. The cinematography also captures the two and their surroundings beautifully, in long takes. The real time aspect of the film also adds to the natural feeling of the scenes.
The film does have some flaws, though. The 80 minute running time feels rather thin - Linklater could have fleshed out the film a bit more, as I enjoyed once again spending time with these characters. On a similar note, the ending also feels a tad abrupt. Overall, while I don't feel "Before Sunset" is quite as satisfying as the film that came before it, it still succeeds in presenting the viewer with two well-developed and interesting characters who feel real and whose compelling conversations feel unforced.
VIDEO: "Before Sunset" is presented by Warner Brothers/Castle Rock in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen on a single-layer DVD. While not terrible, I was somewhat disappointed in aspects of this transfer. Sharpness and detail seemed noticably inconsistent. While none of the film seemed razor sharp, some of the outdoor scenes appeared more crisp and clear. Other scenes, as well as some interior sequences, appeared noticably soft. Beyond the variable (and overall, rather lackluster) definition, the picture seemed a tad darker than it should be.
Unfortunately, the concerns don't end at the film's unexpectedly soft appearance. Some mild edge enhancement shows up in some of the bright, outdoor sequences, while some minor pixelation also is visible in some scenes. A layer of grain is also over some scenes in the film, and it becomes irritating. The print otherwise appears in fine condition, with no noticable scratches or wear.
Colors seem a tad subdued, and flesh tones look off. Overall, while watchable, this presentation was a letdown. I saw the film theatrically, and it looked better than it does here.
SOUND: "Before Sunset" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, but the film's audio is mostly from the center channel, as the film is entirely dialogue-driven. I don't think there were any instances of surround use that I noticed. There wasn't even much in the way of ambience, either, although there was some light ambience at times. Dialogue remained crisp and clear.
EXTRAS: All we get is a brief "making of" documentary and the trailer.
Final Thoughts: At only 80 minutes, "Before Sunset" isn't quite as memorable as "Sunrise", but it does present an intelligent, enjoyable comedy/drama that furthers the story of two superbly realized characters. The performances are very good and the writing is strong. The DVD offers picture quality that was somewhat lackluster, with fine sound and little in the way of supplements. Hopefully, a special edition of both films will be released eventually. Despite the DVD issues, I'm still going to recommend the film.