Before Sunset

Nine years prior, Jesse Wallace, an American tourist, and Céline, a university student from Paris, met on a train and had a brief encounter in Vienna. Jesse’s new novel, This Time, was inspired by that night, and becomes a bestseller. During a book tour in Europe, he does a reading at the noted bookstore, Shakespeare and Company, in Paris. Flashbacks express elements of his time with Céline in Vienna. Three journalists attend the reading to interview Jesse: one is convinced the book’s main characters meet again, another that they do not, and a third who wants them to but is doubtful that will occur. As Jesse speaks with the audience, his eyes wander and he sees Céline there, smiling at him.

After the presentation, the bookstore manager reminds Jesse of his need to leave for the airport in about an hour for his plane. Céline and Jesse’s time together is again constrained. They decide to make the best of it, and their conversations soon become deeply personal, very similar to their first night together. They begin with themes of work and politics and, with increasing passion, approach their earlier feelings for each other, eventually touching on their failure to have met as planned six months after their first encounter. Jesse initially lies and says that he had not returned to Vienna after Céline says she did not, because her grandmother had died suddenly. After Céline asks him why he didn’t, he confesses that he in fact did return. Since the pair had never exchanged phone numbers, they had no way to contact each other at the time.

They reveal how their lives have changed during the nine years they spent apart. Jesse is married and has a son named Hank while Céline has become an advocate for the environment and has a photojournalist boyfriend. They each express dissatisfaction with their lives as they walk in Paris, and their former feelings are slowly rekindled, as their one night together looms large in memory, unmarred by ordinary trials. Jesse says his book was inspired by his hope of seeing Céline again and she says that it brought back painful memories. They begin to approach each other tentatively but pull back.

Céline and Jesse arrive at the former’s apartment, even after continuous insistence that Jesse should go before he misses his plane. Jesse persuades her to play a waltz on her guitar, which is about their earlier brief encounter. Jesse puts a Nina Simone CD on the stereo system, prompting Céline to dance to the song “Just in Time” as he watches her. Céline imitates Simone, saying, “Baby… you are gonna miss that plane.” Jesse smiles and says, “I know.”