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Richard Linklater’s 1995 romantic drama Before Sunrise wasn’t exactly a smash hit. If anything, the film only found its niche on the home video format. But this kind of film is the perfect example of why you shouldn’t just hunt out the big blockbusters down at your local rental outlet. Audiences were constantly surprised by the brooding romance between two travellers who had a chance meeting on board a train heading through Vienna. Jessie and Celine’s story ended on a rather ambiguous note, though no one had mentioned a potential sequel. Until now…

Before Sunset
We pick up several years after the event, with Ethan Hawke’s Jessie conducting a whirlwind tour through Europe to promote his book, with Paris being his last stop. The book is based on his experience with Julie Delpy’s Celine all those years ago, though just how detailed it was we never fully discover. Surprisingly, Celine gets wind of Jessie’s book and eventually puts two and two together, showing up at the press conference and stunning the life out of our leading male.

What ensues is purely Before Sunrise mark two, but this time with even more compelling characters, a back story with which to bounce the conversation around and a script that is nothing short of talkie perfection. Assuming audiences have seen the first film (though admittedly it’s not necessary in order to enjoy every minute of this one), we watch on as they begin to bring back that spark from years ago. Jessie is still uber-confident and Celine opinionated and neurotic, but they both possess these qualities with an underlying humility that is immediately endearing to the audience.

As has been mentioned, there’s little more to this film than two characters talking about a variety of subjects, most of which eventually lead back to love and sex. There are fewer locations this time and a lot less “getting to know you” talk like the first film. As a result each setting represents a subtle beat in the narrative which continues to develop the characters’ relationship. You’ll never be more enthralled by two people taking a short boat ride, or riding in a chauffer-driven car than in this film.

The most pleasing aspect of the film is that you can instantly recognise the characters yet identify many changes in their persona along the way. Jessie is a lot more content to listen and ask questions this time around, while Celine immediately airs a sense of vulnerability when she reveals why she didn’t return in mid-December. The final act in Celine’s apartment has to be one of the most enduring images of 2004. It’s simple and unremarkable on the surface, but having witnessed the journey of the two characters and finally being shown their deepest emotions you’ll eventually understand why.

It may sound like one is gushing over such a simplistic, ordinary setup. Two characters talking can’t be that impressive, surely. But it is, and in a strange way one is reluctant to try and fault any of it. It is disappointing that the short running time cuts off our stay, because the writing and characters were good enough to last a whole lot longer. The ambiguous ending (did we expect anything else) is again quite fitting for this kind of film, yet deep down you’d love to find out how the story continues. There’s a sense of the real drama only getting started when we leave, so either there’s another sequel in the works or we’ll have to make do with two very accomplished films that leave it up to our own devices to dream of what happens next.

Before Sunset
Credit to Hawke and Delpy for really making these characters click. Having a hand in writing this time around would have helped them immensely. The conversation flows so naturally that we forget there is a pre-determined direction for them to go. The chemistry between the two ends up much more than just sexual attraction, which is the beauty of the film overall. On the surface you can see what’s going on, but through the conversation and interaction you learn a whole lot more about the situation these two find themselves in.

If no one stands up to notice the broad talent of Richard Linklater now then they never will. You have a man who spawned the career of Kevin Smith thanks to 1991’s Slacker, the creator of the forgotten teen classic Dazed & Confused and a career that until this film had been punctuated with the family hit School Of Rock. His handling of this one announces him as a jack of all trades, and one would be guessing that before long he’ll be a master of all of them too.

The 1.78 transfer included on this release isn’t all that impressive when compared to many other new releases of late, although there’s not really that much to dislike about the visuals overall. Grain is visible for the most part, which may have been intentional by the director, and the sharpness is softer than one might expect. Nevertheless, there is nothing really distracting in the visuals save for some minor aliasing in a couple of instances throughout the film. Colours are quite vibrant, showing off the Paris surroundings quite well. Overall it’s nothing startling, but it’s sufficient for this release.

Before Sunset
Again, the audio here won’t knock your socks off but for this film it is more than enough. What we get is a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack that uses the surrounds quite well for subtle ambient effects here and there. There is very little music in the film at all (not counting Celine’s delightful little guitar song) but when it does spring up the surrounds are called into action. There is little else to report from this mix other than the usual clear dialogue and balanced volume levels. A German soundtrack has also been included, along with the four subtitle streams on offer.

Oh dear. For such an accomplished film as this it’s a shame we are treated to an afterthought of an extras section. All we get is a making of featurette which runs for just under ten minutes and the theatrical trailer. The featurette includes several clips from the film mixed in with words from Linklater, Hawke and Delpy. While it may be worth a look there is very little value here for the casual viewer.

One struggles to accept that there was nothing they could add to the supplements to give the disc some value. While the writing was exceptional there were surely some scenes which made the cutting room floor. And how much value would a commentary from the three key players be? Let’s hope the distinct lack of anything means there’s a special edition on the horizon somewhere.

Before Sunset
Gone are the days of the traditional romance movie. They no longer have to be riddled with comedy, nor does the leading man have to go through the whole process before sealing things with a kiss at the end. We should have learnt this a long time ago, before Meg and Tom and Billy became involved in stifling romance films for years. Thankfully we seem to have snapped out of it, and with level heads like Richard Linklater leading the charge it seems quality romance flicks are here to stay.

The real shame is in the disc. We get only serviceable video and audio (though the soundtrack had little to do, admittedly) and a couple of dud extras which only make us yearn for a double-dip later down the track. But at a decent price picking this one up should be a no-brainer because the film really is that good. Fingers crossed it appears come Oscar time, but before then you should definitely check Before Sunset (and it’s predecessor) out.