Before Sunset begins where Before Sunrise (the first in the 'Before' trilogy) left, except nine years have gone by. Did Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) come to Vienna that day as promised to each other? How have their lives changed since? How have their ideas of life, love and relationships evolved? The second part is an equally engaging journey of these characters, except now they are maturer and wiser, with more responsibilities.
The film opens with Jesse, now a writer, in a Q & A session for his book tour in Paris - the book where he has documented his one night with Celine in Vienna (where they met nine years ago). Hours before he is supposed to catch a flight back to New York, he sees Celine standing in a corner slightly away from the audience. Jesse almost freezes in that moment, but the sparkle is back, his face a subdued explosion of emotions - confusion, relief, excitement, surprise, even as Celine looks on with smiling adoration.
He had longed for this moment. Only, he didn't know it would show up this way. Now, he wants to make every second count.
(The one constraint in both films is time. But that is what makes them intriguing. In the prequel, they part ways without exchanging numbers saying they wouldn't treat this as other casual relationships, only to find out if the feelings are for real or temporal. They later reflect on the stupidity of that decision).
There's no awkward moment as they begin to speak. They sound as comfortable as having been only physically apart all this while. They walk down streets and cafes, continuing their conversation, discussing everything from politics, religion, social issues, environmental issues to personal. They're still as much in awe of each other except now they've learned to veil their feelings. But have they really moved on from that evening/night they spent together? Are their lives any happier without each other? Could things have turned out differently had they exchanged numbers that night?
The beauty of this film is in the fact that it does not appear scripted. They are real conversations. The writing credits, along with director Richard Linklater, are shared by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delphy. Which also means they must have infused their real-life experiences into them. Any piece of fiction, after all, is a version (hopeful or pessimistic) of the writer's reality.
The only disappointing thing about Before Sunset is that it ends.