Watching this again, it’s clear the cinematic magic of Linklater’s vision remains untarnished (his fluid camera movements, the incredible timing of the acting and writing), yet for me the ambition and resonance the story initially produced has slightly dimmed. Maybe it’s the ease with which Hawke and Delpy fall back into an old familiar connection that disturbs me on a level I’d never realized before. The idea that people move on after grave disappointment, often fruitlessly hoping fate will save them from a life of emotional suffering, puts a darker spin on the seemingly whimsical material.
That Linklater makes the process so seamless (the meeting at the bookstore, the casual ramblings through the streets of Paris, the final beautiful Delpy guitar solo), shows the wonderful hopefulness the film desires but also the effortlessness form cinema can take. It’s as if, after nine years of dreadful existences with partners you hardly know or care for, one stop in Paris can still remedy a broken heart. While a fantastic example of Linklater’s devotion to the rhythms of character interaction (maybe only better on display in his Dazed and Confused), Before Sunset now feels extremely melancholy, specifically toward how much time the characters have wasted pining for each other over the years without any result. Once again, the Cinema saves the day.