Saturday, 17 August 2013

Before Sunset (2004)

Last week, we began viewing Richard Linklater’s Before... series in reverse order, starting with Before Midnight. What could one possibly profit from this exercise, you ask?

It’s my belief as a professional film critic that each film stands on its own, and needs to be consumed on its own merit. Watching a packaged trilogy out of order helps to defamiliarise the conventional and the ‘natural’, to rise flags where audience assumptions are assumed. When you watch something happen in reverse order, it is easier to see how a conventional position is established out of the diminishing of competing existing possibilities...

With Before Sunset, we drop in on two characters 9 years after they last met in the first film. They’ve had a whirlwind romance lasting all of one evening when they were barely kids and it’s informed the kind of older people they have become since then. But the whole point about their catching-up, their long conversation (which is mostly about their past encounter in Before Sunset), is the growing realisation that the past cannot be recovered, and can only be narrated, reconstructed, re-presented as a romantic longing for romance, a retrospective falling in love with the idea of love.

If Before Midnight would ideally be directed by Todd Solondz, one imagines Before Sunset to be ideally written by Alain de Botton as a thematic sequel to The Romantic Movement, about the courtship and breakup of two people very much in love with each other, but also in love with the idea of being in love.

Like Before Midnight, the tendency of the meandering, self-regarding stream of conversation is towards self-awareness and disillusionment, the unwitting deconstruction of myths about love and romance. Yet under Linklater’s direction and the genre constrains of the romantic comedy, you can bet your last popcorn that Linklater’s characters will manage after a crisis of self-realisation of their narrative self-deceptions, to still talk themselves into resurrecting the past, reclaiming the romantic moment, going for that happily ever after.

Inasmuch as Linklater’s Before series plays around with narration and structure, it is still a very much conservative cinema where love wins out, where characters get lulled into their self-constructed grand narratives after their crisis of self-discovery.

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