LOS ANGELES — After a single night together, new lovers Jesse and Celine parted on a Vienna train platform nine years ago, promising to meet at the same spot again six months later.
Fans of the 1995 sleeper hit “Before Sunrise” have wondered since then if American Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Frenchwoman Celine (Julie Delpy) kept that rendezvous. The answer comes Friday with “Before Sunset,” a continuation of the story that reunites Hawke, Delpy and writer-director Richard Linklater.
Since the movie divulges it early on, it’s no state secret to tell you that one of them turned up on the platform at the appointed time and the other did not.
“We were all wrong the first time,” Linklater said in an interview alongside Hawke and Delpy, with whom he co-wrote “Before Sunset.” “The first round, nine years ago, everybody goes, ‘Do they get together or not?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I think they do. But maybe I’m a romantic.’ But they didn’t get together, so I was wrong.”
Now Jesse and Celine — who met casually on a train and spent the next 14 hours talking, wandering Vienna and tumbling into love before Jesse had to catch a plane home — meet up again in Paris.
Jesse has written a novel based on their one-night affair and is just finishing a European book tour. Celine turns up at a Paris bookstore where Jesse is doing a reading.
Again, time is not on their side. They only have an hour or two before Jesse has to head to the airport for a flight to New York, where he now lives with his wife and young child.
The movie unfolds in real time as Jesse and Celine stop at a cafe, wander the streets, take a garden stroll and hitch a ride on a tourist boat along the Seine.
They talk about their current relationships, Jesse with his family, Celine with her boyfriend. They laugh about the reckless passion of their earlier selves compared to the responsible people they are now. They wonder what might have been had they met again that day nine years earlier. And gradually, they reveal that they have unfinished romantic business between them.
“We all do,” said Delpy, 34. “We all have that.”
“Whether or not you have it for real or it’s a fantasy,” added Hawke, 33. “It could just be a fantasy person, the person you haven’t met. You have this feeling there’s somebody out there. Did I miss them?”
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“We’re prone to these abstractions about what’s missing in our lives,” said Linklater, 43, who directed last fall’s hit “The School of Rock.” “If you’re having trouble in your relationship or it’s not quite what you hoped, because no one will ever be everything for you. We’re all imagining some ideal thing that if you were given the chance would make all the difference.”
Delpy, Hawke and Linklater concede that no one in Hollywood was hankering for a follow-up to “Before Sunrise,” which was not the sort of smash hit that normally spells sequel.
The three would just kick around the idea whenever they came together, and it crystallized in late 1999 when Hawke and Delpy did a brief scene together as Jesse and Celine for Linklater’s animated film “Waking Life.”
They spent a few days in Los Angeles hashing out the story, and the screenplay grew from e-mails and phone conversations among them. The final script came together during a three-day writing blitz in Paris.
The film was shot in a whirlwind 15-day shoot last fall. Delpy also wrote and sang three songs for the soundtrack.
“Before Sunset” opens in limited release in nine cities and expands to more markets through July. With a tiny budget of $2.7 million, about the same as “Before Sunrise,” the new movie is a low-risk affair compared to summer flicks with $100 million-plus budgets.
Though it will not take a huge audience for the film to earn back its money, Delpy, Hawke and Linklater made sure to give their pet project a commercial plug.
“I think people should go see this one, then go back and rent ‘Before Sunrise,’ then go back and see this one again,” Delpy said. “And take their friends and their mother.”
“And if you go to another movie, buy a ticket to our movie, too,” Linklater added.
“Before Sunset” ends with more uncertainty for Jesse and Celine’s future. If the right ideas strike them down the road, Delpy, Hawke and Linklater said they might consider future films about Jesse and Celine, possibly even carrying their romantic saga into old age.
“I think that would be the best one. With us in our 70s,” Hawke said. “I would just be incredibly happy if we were that old and still friends and still interested in the same subject matter. That would be pretty exciting.”
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