Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Before Sunset (2004)

#41: Before Sunset (Richard Linklater, 2004)

This is probably a fantasy of the way relationships work (I'm hardly one to say), but it's as fine and heartrending a romance as I know, not least perhaps because the sputtering front end of it, Linklater's 1995 Before Sunrise, is so fatally slight. But in this inspired sequel, the three principals—director Linklater and stars Julie Delpy (Celine) and Ethan Hawke (Jesse), who all collaborated on the screenplay—are nine years older, with that much more experience under their belts and showing in the lines on their faces and the circumstances of their (fictional) lives.

The premise of both pictures is practically identical: Celine and Jesse, who barely know one another yet experience a mutual and profound connection, are irresistibly drawn together. In Sunrise, they get off a train and spend a night prowling Vienna, talking and talking and talking. That movie ends with solemn promises to meet again six months later. In Sunset, it's nine years later, and they are meeting again for the first time since that night. It starts at a reading for Jesse's novel (the book based on their night together), and it's as unplanned in its way as their first meeting—he has no idea she will be there, she has no idea how it will go. Almost immediately they fall in again, and spend the afternoon prowling Paris, talking and talking and talking. The warp and woof of their conversation is continually intruded on by their mutual bewilderment, even resentment, at the feelings they share toward one another.

Something about the simple, straightforward way this is made—the events are practically real-time and it's all about the conversation, composed mostly of tracking and medium and regular old reverse shots—along with the plain likeability for me of both characters, has an effect that's hard to describe. I can't help being as in love with them (or, maybe, with the idea of them) as they are with each other. Like any of us they are reasonably smart, reasonably sensitive, and fully engaged with life, and yet at the same time continually dragged down by its inevitable losses. The ending is a sparkling moment of optimism (maybe), and while I know well this is no Up series I still can't help hoping against my better judgment that they put together a third installment in a few more years' time. I'm dying to know how it all worked out for them.

"I was fine until I read your fucking book."

Phil #41: The Straight Story (David Lynch, 1999) (scroll down)
Steven #41: Near Dark (Kathryn Bigelow, 1987)

I was surprised, judging by the response to this, how many people think the first movie in this pair is as good as the sequel. It's never even been close for me, plus it gave me another 2000s pick. On the other hand, this is where I learned more about the slippery slope and exponential effects of second-guessing oneself, as my original pick for #41, The Man Who Fell to Earth, which I loved and saw several times on its original release, struck me as alarmingly mediocre when I looked at it again for the write-up. So I decided to make another switch. My first thought was to drop King Kong, which I had at #33 and had begun worrying about, into this slot. Then I looked at my VHS copy (with a poor print) and ran away from that—and this meant I had another vacancy even higher. Next I thought of After Hours, which I had seen recently again. But I started to think about it too much—because I had another Scorsese up higher, didn't that mean I would be calling After Hours my second-favorite movie by him? And isn't that a bridge too far? Finally I settled on Before Sunset, which I had already written about anyway here (and the first one here), after looking at it one time to gauge if I had actually stopped liking things I liked before. I resolved, henceforth, to just stick with my picks and focus on the good points in my write-ups even if I got all caught up in questioning them, and mostly I accomplished that, with only a few more missteps.

Meanwhile, Phil's pick, and his pointed denigration of Mulholland Dr. and Inland Empire, set the stage for one of the longest discussions in the whole exercise and a lot of the usual pushing back and forth about David Lynch ("he's pretentious, he's laughing at us, he sexualizes violence!" etc.). I like Lynch, had two of his pictures ahead, one of them rather high, which I did not want to tip, but it was hard to just shut up. What was most interesting for me was to be reminded how much I liked The Straight Story even though it would likely not ever crack my top 5 favorites by Lynch—I think the highest I could get it was #7. Steven, for his part, likes Lynch even less than Phil and stayed agnostic for most of these discussions. His pick, a vampire movie by Kathryn Bigelow, I've never seen, which reminds me that I meant to bump that one up some, and The Hurt Locker, which I have also not seen. Seems like I'm always talking about things I haven't seen.

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