The best moment in “Before Sunset” takes place in the back seat of a car. Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) are talking, and he is telling her about what his marriage has become and how often he has thought about her over the years, since that one night they spent together in Vienna, nine years earlier (the story told in “Before Sunrise”). She is visibly moved by what he is saying, and you can see from the expression on her face that she desperately wants to reach out and touch him, caress his head, and say that things are all right. She reaches out, but pulls back at the last second, unsure of what to do. It’s perfect, because it is the perfect illustration of how the two can’t quite figure out what they have going.
It’s a credit to Hawke, Delpy and director Richard Linklater that they were able to create a sequel that approaches the magic generated by “Before Sunrise.” What the two movies have in common is that they’re essentially a 90-minute conversation between the two characters; where they differ is in the tone of the conversation and the setting (Vienna then, Paris now). Jesse is now a successful author on a book tour, and has written a book based on the night that he and Celine spent roaming the streets of Vienna. She shows up at his book signing, and for the next hour, they walk through the streets of Paris, talking about that earlier night, how their lives have changed, and why they’ve never let go of their shared memory.
When “Before Sunrise” came to an end, one could be forgiven for hoping that was the end of the story, because then each viewer could come up with their own story of what happened to these two characters. To try and recreate the magic was a risk, but in the end “Before Sunset” succeeds, because at the end you’re still left with that sense of mystery. What happens next? There is now talk of a third movie, and there’s no reason to think that the artistic team behind the first two can’t pull it off again.