BEFORE SUNSET directed by Richard Linklater, written by Linklater, Kim Krizan, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, produced by Linklater and Anne Walker-McBay, with Hawke and Delpy. A Castle Rock/Detour production. 80 minutes. Rating: NNNN
This is the surprising sequel to the love story that sucker-punched a generation. When last we saw Celine and Jesse in Before Sunrise, they promised to meet that fall in Vienna. Turns out it's nine years later and Paris instead, but it's never too late in the movies. Working with reams of dialogue, long takes and 35mm film, Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy make a stunning technical achievement look easy. Even better is the sheer thrill of watching two smart people talk through both betrayal and infatuation to the uncharted place on the other side.
Opens Friday (July 9). For venues and times, see Movies. Rating: NNNNN
Berlin - Ethan Hawke folds nicely into any chair. The thin frame, the goatee gesture: it's the portable look of a million earnest young men, each one curled up behind a corner table somewhere, reading. Except Ethan Hawke is a movie star. A novelist but a movie star, with an Oscar nomination for Training Day and a tabloid-meat split from his movie-star babymother, Uma Thurman.
But does the celebrity fit? Nursing bottled water in a Berlin hotel room and actually reflecting on questions, Hawke comes off more thoughtful author than famous face
His latest challenge? Trying to write a book "that isn't a love story. I bet you it'll end up being a love story because I've never written anything that wasn't."
Maybe it's Hawke's addiction to love or maybe it was the cultural moment, but his screen presence is forever tied to one film.
Better than anything else in his filmography, the 1995 film Before Sunrise caught all of Hawke's prismatic features - literate and romantic, cocky and tentative. Falling in love in a swirl of words one night in the streets of Vienna, Hawke emerged a poster boy for seductive ambivalence. His co-star Julie Delpy became the new face of French romantic genius.
Now they've gone and made a sequel.
Nine years later, Jesse and Celine meet on her turf, in Paris. In the hour and a half before he has to catch a flight, they talk about desire, about time, about how French men "aren't as horny as Americans" and about who betrayed whom back in Vienna.
"The first film is really about hope and possibility and that kind of romanticism," Hawke says. "The whole idea of setting this film in real time was to accentuate the idea that as you get older, it's not about the future any more. Their life is in the present, or it's trying to be in the present."
And yet, even more than the past, the future hangs over these two characters.
"It's that weird moment of bumping into an old lover," Hawke explains, "and wondering how your life could have been different, and having someone rattle your whole sense of who you are."
Before Sunrise was never a major hit, but its reputation grew massively on video. In nine years, it's become the Casablanca of its disaffected generation.
"We sat down and watched it once," Hawke recalls. "It was incredibly intimidating because we didn't want to screw our memory of it. The first film had such a good reputation and everyone felt so proud of it, and we all had such a good time. If we made a really bad sequel to it, it would be like showing that we're secretly really untalented. That's your fear."
So they all worked their asses off.
"Learning these lines was harder than learning Shakespeare, because we were working so fast," he says. "And because the movie takes place in real time, we could only film for two or three hours a day when the light could match. Some days it'd be cloudy and then the light would be perfect, so we'd do a 10-minute take of us walking down the street. Every two seconds I'm looking at Julie and thinking, 'Did you just screw it up? Did I already say that line?'"
Three years ago Linklater invited Hawke and Delpy to Texas for a cameo scene in Waking Life. They revived their Before Sunrise characters, but the idea for a sequel began much earlier. Now Hawke says he wants to take it further.
"I would love to make a third film. I love working with Rick and Julie so much. I have kind of a dream. Imagine if you did make one every 10 years, you'd have this giant opus on relationships. It'd be so neat to watch two fictional characters get old, without makeup. It'd be a weird cross between a documentary and fiction.
"Rick feels very strongly, and rightfully so, that if there is a third movie, there has to be a sex scene. We've done two movies and no sex. So it has to open with a full-blown sex scene. So then Julie said, 'Well, we have to do it soon. I won't be naked at 50, I won't do it. '"
"The truth is, she probably will."
The chemistry between Hawke and his co-star is palpable, both onscreen and off.
"You know, Julie's just totally weird," he says. "She's completely unique. She's turned into this great musician. There are some of her songs in the movie. She's incredibly passionate and a really interesting thinker.
"I remember when we did the first movie she was so much smarter than me, being European, being a woman. We were both 23 and she was 23 going on 53 and I was 23 going on 13.
"She was a full woman even back then. She's even more so now."
From that one movie nine years ago, it sounds like Hawke has found core members of his tribe.
"I've made five movies with Richard Linklater," he says, surprised. "I don't know why. We're like-minded enough to find each other interesting, yet different enough to be helpful to each other.
"I've always used acting," he confesses, "to get into the room with as interesting people as I can find."
It's the admission of a man who might rather be back at that corner table scribbling.
"Writing is something that's wonderful and peaceful," Hawke says simply. "You know, I feel like the bulk of my life has been a war with my nervous system. It's really nerve-racking - performing, going to premieres, doing interviews.
"Writing is so calm. If you don't get it today, you'll get it tomorrow, you know? Nobody's watching. So in a way it's lonely, it's boring. What's wonderful about performing is the collaboration."
Even with the occasional big-budget paycheque, Hawke remains an indie in Hollywood, too sincere for comedy and too reedy for action.
"Dramas are really why I became an actor," he says. "I'm not a comedian.
"It took us years and years to get the money together for this film. We finally talked Castle Rock, who did the first movie, into it. We said there's no way you can lose money on this movie. The money you'll make on the video - it will pay for itself. The studios would rather spend $90 million than $3 million, because in order to compete in the marketplace they're going to have to spend $35 million on an ad campaign anyway, so why wouldn't they have the most expensive product they can?"
But Hawke accepts that movies like Before Sunset have become a niche taste, even in his own family.
"My brother, for instance, will watch this movie and be like, 'Shut up! When is she gonna take off her top?'" email@example.com
Julie Delpy doesn't censor herself
While Ethan Hawke talks with the soft intensity of the novelist he is, co-star Julie Delpy spits opinions like a mad diarist. With a career that includes Kieslowski's Three Colours: White, Jean-Luc Godard's The Detective and her own CD, maybe she has a right to.
The morning after she sang at the Before Sunset premiere party, she sat down to talk to NOW.
On speaking out "My parents are total hippie anarchists. They raised me with total freedom of thinking, total freedom of expressing myself. There's no filter between my brain and my mouth."
On writing "I wrote my first script when I was 18 years old, and it almost got produced. Sam Shepard read it and didn't like it. Somehow, that destroyed me and I decided not to write any more for about four years. "I'm a little bit self-destructive, but not in a way that people see self-destruction - taking drugs or whatever. I'm self-destructive in a creative way, which is twisted, but I've decided not to do that any more. That's why I've released an album and why I'm writing more and more.
"In the film, there's a bit that Richard (Linklater) took from a letter I wrote to George Bush, even before September 11. I wrote about being in Poland and observing how consuming society has an effect on the mind. I'd written this 30-page letter to George Bush. I always send letters to presidents. I don't know why."
On Jean-Luc Godard "When I met Godard - I was 14 - I was not planning to act in his film. I was planning on being an assistant. Then he hired me as an actress. I played the clarinet, and he wanted someone who played an instrument, and I had the look he was looking for. He told me I could come on set every day and I would be paid."
On control-freak directors "The most controlling director I worked with was Krzysztof Kieslowski. He was used to directing people with 100 per cent control. As we worked together, he suddenly changed a bit. He realized there was something else going on in a scene, and he'd tell me, 'OK, just do whatever you feel like doing.' He told me he never did that with anybody else, but he trusted me. If a director has a little faith in me and gives me freedom in a direction I want to take, they're rarely disappointed.