When I first heard that Richard Linklater was making a sequel to BEFORE SUNRISE, I thought, "What a terrible idea." I remember finding the first film pleasant, but not particularly wanting to sit through it again (whereas I have no trouble watching SLACKER, DAZED AND CONFUSED, and WAKING LIFE over and over). And Ethan Hawke was so annoying in TAPE that I wasn't too keen on seeing him in another film where he's in just about every frame.

Well, if anyone can pull off the implausibly greater-than-the-original sequel, it's Linklater. BEFORE SUNSET reunites Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) for the first time nine years after their initial encounter. Jesse, now a bestselling author (his book must be better than Hawke's!) is in Paris wrapping up a European tour. Celine surprises him by appearing at a reading he's giving at a bookstore, and they have barely an hour to hang out and catch up before Jesse has to hop a plane back to the States.

What follows transpires in real time and long takes. As Jesse and Celine walk through sunlit streets to a cafe, through a garden path, along the Seine in a tour boat and in a cab, we hear and see how time has changed and weathered them. We're let in on the most intimate details of their accomplishments and disappointments, dreams and desires, impulses and hesitations. The screenplay, written by Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy seems improvised at times, yet it's also incredibly complex--watch for body language as well as intricate shifts in tone.

Three things in particular make this a great film: Hawke and Delpy's spot-on chemistry, Delpy's outstanding performance, and Linklater's agility in opening up this seemingly conceptually limited premise and bringing it to an unexpected, indefinite but perfectly lovely conclusion.