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January 31, 2005 / jnolen

SB Film Fest: Days 1 and 2

I didn't go to San Francisco this weekend after all, so I was able to catch the beginning of the SBIFF. Every year, I forget how bad the weekends are. There are far too many people trying to get into the shows. The lines are completely chaotic, the volunteers are overwhelmed, and no one knows what the hell is going on. I showed up to one show more than an hour early and still didn't get in. Most frustrating. But things will be much better tomorrow, after the tourists go back to LA.

Before Sunrise & Before Sunset

On Saturday I saw back-to-back screenings of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. I loved Before Sunrise so much that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see these films in the theater, despite the fact that they are both easily available on DVD.

I saw Before Sunrise only once, seven years ago. I loved it almost more than is possible to describe. I haven’t seen it since, being sure that a second viewing would fail to live up to the first one. But seeing it again yesterday was just as powerful as the first time. And best of all, the first film was amplified and deepened by the second. Before Sunset made me love Before Sunrise even more, something I would have barely though possible.

The first movie alone might come to seem naive or overwrought as I grow older. But the second movie saves it from that fate. We see that Jesse and Celine themselves have grown and changed beyond that one night. They are more real, more mature and more believable in Before Sunset. It was a brilliant choice to have the years between these two films elapse in real time. We return to these two characters nine years later and find that they are as different as we ourselves are.

I want to describe my favorite moment from each of these movies. They are strikingly similar. In Before Sunrise, early in the day, soon after Jesse has talked Celine into getting off the train with him, they are riding together on the back of a bus. As they’re talking, Jesse reaches out to push Celine’s hair behind her ear so he can see her face. Just as he’s about to touch her, she turns her head toward him and he pulls his hand back.

In Before Sunset, the two are riding in the car on their way to Celine’s apartment. They are both releasing all the pain and frustration and disappointment of their lives since they parted. Celine rages. Jesse talks with such desolation about his failing marriage; he looks as though he’s about to shatter. Jesse is looking out the window as he speaks softly and hopelessly. Celine reaches out to put her hand on the back of his neck. But she can’t quite decide to touch him and then he turns his head and she pulls her hand back, the moment gone.

I think my the most perfect parts of their performances are the way to two do and don’t look at each other. And what they do when they think the other isn’t looking. It seems so real.

As soon as I finished watching Before Sunrise I immediately decided that Jesse and Celine did meet again in Vienna in six months time. But the version of Jesse and Celine’s story that we are told in Before Sunset is so much more satisfying. The struggle and pain and disappointment of the intervening nine years make their relationship more believable and more precious than it would have been had they found each other easily.

Of course, all of this depends yet again on writing my own romantic conclusion to the ambiguous end of the second movie. But it’s clear to me that, despite the obvious difficulties that lie in front of Jesse and Celine as the screen fades to black, they stay together. If that isn’t what happens — just don’t tell me; I’d rather not know.

Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover

Today I saw Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover, as independent romantic comedy set in LA. This film had some enjoyable moments, and lots of great LA scenes, but overall it was uneven. Too much of the humor fell flat.

The movie was really a love-song to LA itself. And the film’s high-point was LA personified in the character of Alison, played by Poppy Montgomery. She didn’t have a great script to work with, and I really wanted to write her off as another dime-a-dozen, blonde starlet. But somehow she managed to portray an effecting hard-boiled vulnerability that really made me love her character.

This movie wanted to be a more romantic version of L.A. Story. It got part of the way there. I think if they trimmed a lot of the failed humor and focused more on the relationship between Owen and Allison, it would be a much more successful film.

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