Saturday, February 23, 2019


Following last week’s viewing of Clouzot’s La verité [review] and the questions it raised regarding how the director chose to use the image and reputation of his lead actress, Brigitte Bardot, it seemed like the right time to back up and take a look at the film that defined Bardot as an international sex symbol: 1956’s ...And God Created Woman.

Dubbed by the Criterion edition’s back cover hype as “a milestone in cinematic naughtiness,” ...And God Created Woman has little cause to be remembered beyond Bardot’s petulant performance and all the excuses the filmmakers find to get her undressed. ...And God Created Woman was the debut effort of writer/director Roger Vadim (Barbarella), who was married to Bardot at the time, and he misses no opportunity in exploiting his famous wife. Or wives. This was Vadim’s m.o., going from here to have both public and cinematic liaisons with Jane Fonda and Catherine Deneuve.

Truth be told, he needs these women to prop him up. Roger Vadim is not a good film director. He is pedestrian, at best. Most of ...And God Created Woman is shot straight-on, with little movement or composition. Vadim’s single trick is to sometimes use a mirror reflection as an extension of his leering camera eye. He probably would have had a better career as a pornographer, as the only thing he seems to know how to do exceptionally well is pose a naked body. So much so that in La verité Clouzot calls back to the first appearance of the nude Bardot in ...And God Created Woman--lounging on her stomach, derriere in full view--to show her character seducing the man she’d later kill.

Not that a more artful flourish could have done much for ...And God Created Woman’s script. This is standard melodrama, with Curd Jurgens (The Spy Who Loved Me) as a wealthy developer looking to buy a tiny family shipyard to secure all the land he needs to build a casino. The family doesn’t want to sell, however, and Jurgens locks horns with the eldest son (Jean-Louis Trintignant, (Trois Coleurs: Red [review], Amour [review]). Both, of course, are also involved with Bardot, whose Juliette likes flirting with the older man but genuinely cares for the younger. When Trintignant’s Michel proves to be a cad, Juliette marries his younger brother--predictably reigniting the others’ desire to have her.

If you were to make a parody of what a French film is supposed to be, whatever cliché comes to mind is most likely ...And God Created Woman. The gray morality play about a young woman with multiple lovers who is both lauded and punished for her sexuality would be sitcom fodder for years to come. Remember Rochelle, Rochelle? Too bad in reality ...And God Created Woman is more boring than laughable. Then again, this also gives credence to my theory that Clouzot was tearing apart such banal tropes in La verité, giving some agency back to the performer and the image that defined her. Skip ahead two years and just watch that far superior drama. Or, if you must, treat ...And God Created Woman as it seems intended, and just fast forward past the story to the naked bits.

For more Bardot and Vadim, check my review of The Brigitte Bardot Classic Collection.

Monday, February 18, 2019

LA VERITE - #960

1960’s La vérité is a cracking courtroom drama. Directed by Henri Georges-Clouzot (Diabolique [review]) and starring Brigitte Bardot (Contempt [review]), La vérité builds itself around the testimonies in the case of one Gilbert Tellier (Sami Frey, Band of Outsiders [review]), a music student and up-and-coming orchestra conductor, now deceased. The timeline bounces from the witness box to flashbacks of the real events and back again, creating two narratives: the trial activity and the interpersonal drama that led to the homicide. These dual tracks put the audience in the position of the ultra-jury, our macro view allowing us to judge all the participants and all sides in a way the film’s characters cannot.

Clouzot’s jam-packed courtroom is a living, breathing entity. There are prosecutors and defense attorneys, reporters and jurors, judges and witnesses. In Clouzot’s view, they are all equally important, and how the mass functions creates a miniature society within the larger whole, a shadow community that will make sense of what happens out in the world. The lawyers on both sides--prosecutor Eparvier (Paul Meurisse, Army of Shadows [review]) and defense attorney Guéri (Charles Vanel, the 1934 Les misérables [review])--have their roles and their relationships. The prosecution is stern, the defense disruptive and irreverent. We clock their machinations, and weigh the impact it has on others, including the victim’s mother.

But above all of them--quite literally, she is housed directly over her defense team--is the accused, Dominque Marceau, played with a remarkable emotional breadth by Bardot. Dominque is not contesting the fact that she killed Tellier, the only question is what drove her. Was this a premeditated slaying or a crime of passion? Though witnesses to their tumultuous, unhealthy love affair only really know what parts they were personally privy to, Clouzot’s camera is not bound by their words. The flashbacks form one linear narrative of a provincial girl who loses herself to the temptations of Paris, attracting the attention of many men, but only giving her full self to one. Yet, as the prosecution paints Dominique out to be a cruel hussy destroying a sensitive artist, we see how Tellier was jealous, possessive, and just as cruel himself.

In this day and age, there has been much debate over “victim shaming,” how women who have been victims of assault have their own lives put on trial, suggesting their own moral standards or life choices brought the attack on themselves. This tactic, as we see time and again, is wrong, excusing the criminal with facts that are irrelevant. It’s clear from La vérité that women have been subject to such double standards for a long time. Sure, Dominque is guilty, but is she less deserving of a defense because she is in touch with her sexuality? Her lawyer makes no bones about it: the answer is no. The compelling thing here, however, is that we also must reject the notion that Tellier deserved or asked to be killed. Life is not so clean-cut as that.

The fact that the woman in question is Brigitte Bardot makes it all the more interesting, since most audience members in 1960 came with their own preconceived notions of who she was. From the get-go, La vérité plays on her image as a sex symbol. With her hair up and wearing a black dress that essentially covers her from the neck on down, her first appearance in court still draws leers from the men in the gallery. Likewise, we are invited to gawk at her body in various scenes throughout La vérité. Is Clouzot merely seducing us alongside Tellier, or are we just as bad in demanding that the actress gives us a peek? After her sexy turn in And God Created Woman moviegoers expected to see more of Bardot than most other actresses, and I am sure studios were more than happy to oblige. One could even question if Clouzot is exposing her naked curves in service to the script...or the box office.

I’d like to think the former, because there is very little, if anything, in La vérité that the director has not considered through to the finest details, from the doodles on the defense lawyer’s legal pad to the posters on everyone’s bedroom walls to the layout of Tellier’s apartment building and how it allows Dominque to commit murder undetected (Panic Room-era David Fincher would nod in approval). As I mentioned, the courtroom is filled with spectators, and Clouzot regularly cuts to a wide shot just to remind us of what kind of circus Dominique is being subjected to. Yet, it’s those smaller details, the close-ups on observers and participants, that bring further life to the trial. There is never time to be bored, there is always something happening.

That also gives more evidence to Clouzot’s implication of the audience through decorative choices. As La vérité reaches its emotional crescendo, and Bardot is given an opportunity to tear into Monique’s breakdown, quieting the whole of the courtroom, I am sure that theatres showing La vérité in 1960 were also silent. The final outcome of the film, one could argue, is not the fault of the girl, but of a hypocritical society that fed on her shame and turned her pain into entertainment.

Fun Quiz: Which is more French, the ending of La vérité or the ending of yesterday’s review, Cold Water? Both rely on a note from a doomed young woman, but is one more romantically existential than the other?

This disc was provided by the Criterion Collection for purposes of review.

Sunday, February 17, 2019


You do stupid things when you’re young. Destructive things.

When I was 12 or 13, a couple of friends and I used to go to the high-rise apartment building behind where we lived and race through their hallways, like a suburban remake of Band of Outsiders [review], replacing the marbled floors of the Louvre for gaudy 1980s carpeting. Not all three of us on the same hallway, though, but each on a different floor. We’d climb the outside staircase on one side of the building, and pop open the locked doors on the top floor and two below it, each competitor positioned on his respective floor. On GO!, we’d start running and race to the exit onto the stairway on the other side. With each successive race, run over a matter of weeks, we’d increase the level of nuisance. We’d yell and knock on doors, and once, my friend Jimmy grabbed an abandoned bottle full of oil and some other fluids out of a garage, pissed in it, and then trailed it behind him as he ran, leaving a long stain on the carpet. This was probably the beginning of what would get us noticed, leading to the last straw.

Another time we discovered the management had repainted all the guardrails on the staircase and carved things into the gooey, still-drying paint, mostly using our fingers. It was after that incident, after we’d caused some real damage, that they started keeping an eye out for us, and on a subsequent race, men were waiting for us out on the stairs at the finish line side.

We were taken to the management office and told to sit tight, the police were coming. Not being a real priority crime, we were going to have to wait a while. The couple that ran the building started talking to us, curious why we did it. We copped to the racing, but denied everything else. Worse, we started moralizing on our own. “Why would anyone do such a thing?” we pondered. “How terrible!” Meanwhile, we were biting off our nails to get rid of the paint that was still lodged beneath them. By the time Johnny Law finally did show up, we had convinced our victims that we were innocent. The cops scoffed, seeing right through our ruse (we’d even offered to help clean up, an obvious sign of guilt), but with no one to press charges, we were let go.

Why would anyone do such a thing? It was an honest question to ask ourselves, since we had no answer to offer, no motivation. We were just young and bored, we felt misunderstood, and we needed to lash out at something.

These same unknowable impulses drive the kids in Olivier Assayas’ 1994 semi-memoir Cold Water, a teen drama set in 1970s France. Very little understanding is sought, less offered. At one point, when confronted by his girlfriend’s angry mother (Dominique Faysse, Irma Vep), the Assayas stand-in, Gilles (Cyprien Fouquet, in his only film appearance), tells the worried parent that her daughter runs away because she does not pay attention to her. It’s as good an explanation as any, and probably partially true. Yet, it’s also too simple to fully communicate the miasma of hormones and emotion that make adolescence so trying.

The girl in question is Christine, and she’s played by Virginie Ledoyen (The Beach, 8 Women). Christine is caught in a custody dispute between her parents, and if you asked her, she’d prefer to be with neither. After she gets caught shoplifting some records with Gilles, her father decides to send her to a mental hospital. It’s not the first time he’s done it, either. Though Christine plays it cool, again offering no hint of her true feelings, if she ran across those same cops who interrogated my friends and I (they did check under what was left of our nails, by the way), they’d see through her as easily as they saw through us. Christine is a troubled girl; while the solution is too extreme, she probably does need some kind of help.

Meanwhile, Gilles does not appear to have much reason for his teenage ennui. Outside of maybe trying to impress Christine--who at the start of Cold Water is just his friend--not much seems to fuel his delinquency. His parents have split, as well, but his father (László Szabó, Le petit soldat [review]; The Confession) seems like an all right guy, one who has been willing to give his son enough rope. But then...we all know how that cliché finishes, and dear ol’ dad is seeing how some clichés still hold truth. Gilles doesn’t seem to care about anything, not even the girl he is supposed to love; when she is caught and he is not, he just keeps running and never looks back, leaving Christine holding the bag for his theft. In fact, so lacking in purpose is Gilles’ rebellion, we never get any explanation or payoff for one of his most distressing crimes: he buys half-a-dozen sticks of dynamite and leaves them with his younger brother, teaching him how to attach the detonator and fuse. It’s like that saw blade scene in Richard Linklater’s Boyhood [review] in terms of audience panic. And just like in Boyhood, the perceived danger never manifests.

Much of the above occupies the first third of Cold Water, with the rest of the film hinging on an extended party scene in an abandoned house. Fueled by hash and 1970s rock-and-roll, the kids cut loose, trashing the house, and starting a bonfire. To compare to another Richard Linklater film, it’s like the kegger in Dazed & Confused [review], only the nostalgia has been replaced by apocalyptic anxiety. Even the songs on the soundtrack are darker cuts from Roxy Music, Nico, Bob Dylan, and Creedence Clearwater Revival. Assayas finds the sinister drive of “Around the Bend” so effective, he re-starts the song midway through, letting that opening riff work its magic twice (and I say that as someone who loathes Creedence). Gilles and Christine are reunited and dance to Leonard Cohen’s “Avalanche,” which isn’t exactly romantic. Rather, it has a push-and-pull, the narrator rejecting that someone has helped him, and even implies hurt. “Well I stepped into an avalanche / It covered up my soul.”

If the kids really did want attention, Assayas gives them plenty. Cold Water was shot by Denis Lenoir, who also lensed Assayas’ Carlos [review] and the Julianne Moore drama Still Alice [review]. His camera is patient, letting the moments unfold rather than forcing them. This gives the teens time to thrash and flail, and to discover their own mistakes. It’s hard to tell if Gilles sees any of his own errors at the end, or if he’s gotten what he wants. He certainly has let the avalanche cover him, and one can argue that avalanche does him a mitzvah by rolling over him and leaving him behind--itself racing from one stairwell to the next, across the floor of the Louvre, on to whatever finish line its heading for.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

BEFORE MIDNIGHT (re-review) - #859

It’s not time that they’re lost in, but perception.”

And perception is key to this review of Before Midnight, the closing chapter of the Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy. I reviewed this film enthusiastically upon its release in 2013 [read it here], but I have not re-read that piece since re-posting it to this blog. Thus, I come to Before Midnight fresh, hot on the heels of watching and reviewing the first two entries (Before Sunrise and Before Sunset), building my impressions as I go. If I contradict my previous self in this outing, it’s to be forgiven, the product of time passing, personal change, and different perceptions based on where one sits at any particular moment.

Jesse and Celine, as embodied by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, certainly sit in different places than we have seen them before. The kids of Before Sunrise searching for a meaningful life have found one. They are in what is probably a common-law marriage with children--twin girls from this union, and a son from Jesse’s former marriage. She is a successful environmental activist, he is a popular novelist. The movie finds them on a vacation in Greece, hosted by an elder statesmen of literature, sharing the time with three other couples. Before Midnight is the first movie of the Before Trilogy to open up and give us not just glimpses of Jesse and Celine interacting with others at length, but interacting with other people without each other. It breaks the mold, to a degree, but as with all the choices made across the three films, this is done with purpose: we have to see them come back together. The presence of others in their lives isn’t necessarily driving them apart, but there has to be a certain reminder of what it means for them to be together alone.

We probably should have braced ourselves for the melancholy at the jump. Before Midnight opens with Jesse dropping his son at the airport, sending him back to America and his mother. The child can only visit in summers and on holidays, and Jesse’s melancholy over the situation sparks a slow-burning argument about what he and Celine may want. She is faced with a potential job change, a step up in the political world but a surrender of sorts, since it will take her away from the small but effective campaigns that do a lot of good when they work. But, is Jesse’s suggestion of spending more time with the son really a suggestion that they uproot everything and move to America?

It’s the seed of what will become an argument in the second half of the movie. The first half shows them socializing with the other vacationers. The group is almost like a capsule of the Trilogy itself, with a young couple, another middle-aged couple, and then an older non-couple, a widower and a widow who show two sides of a future where you outlive your spouse. The discussion careens through these points of view, covering not just relationships, but technology, dreams, and memory. It’s happy times, with just an undercurrent of the animosity that will fuel the film’s second half, when Jesse and Celine go off on their own for a romantic night that turns into anything but.

But first, we see them walking from the villa to the local hotel, a glimpse of the couple we have come to know, chatting and laughing and sharing ideas. They revisit old themes, like death and time. There’s a lot of talk about time, how it’s too slow when you’re young and too fast when you’re old. And how one marks its passage, how we measure the events of our lives. In some sense, the important happenings are still stretched out on the same continuum that Jesse proposes in Before Sunset, with the audience being blessed with the macro view, knowing that Celine isn’t entirely right when she says they have not changed at all, but also not entirely wrong. We’ve watched in a way they cannot.

There is an increased familiarity that informs Before Midnight: our familiarity with the characters and their familiarity with each other, but also the relationship between the performers and the filmmakers. There is a comfort here, and known tropes to fall back on, but also an even more natural rapport. Linklater and his actors are infusing their years together into how they portray the same level of time having passed between their avatars. Everything just feels right. Maybe Celine really is correct. There’s a consistency to their union we appreciate...

(l to r) Hawke, Delpy, & Linklater, ca. Before Sunset

...and that they doubt. If this is a couple’s midlife crisis, consistency is at the heart of it. Not just the boring or reliable stuff, but a consistency of mistakes, of character flaws, of foibles. Long-term couples always advise younger lovers that the secret to a relationship’s success is hard work, it’s not all magic. Before Midnight is a portrait of that. It’s actually kind of exciting to watch, mostly because we so rarely see this kind of relationship on screen. (Though Bergman comes to mind.)

It’s almost impossible not to watch Ethan Hawke’s Jesse at this stage and not think of his similar character in Boyhood [review]. The rock-and-roll dad who still wants to be cool, and thus appears unreliable, who lives separate from the child, but who means well. On that front, we also must consider Julie Delpy’s character in her own films, 2 Days in Paris [review] and 2 Days in New York [review]. She brings a lot of the same anxieties to that role, but amplified to the point of being alienating. In those movies you wish the couples would split; in the Before Trilogy, you wish they’d stay together.

If they do, it’s still up to you. Before Midnight keeps the conceit laid out at the beginning of Before Sunset. How you decide the fate of Jesse and Celine depends on what baggage and beliefs you bring to the table. In this case, though, it’s not really a question of how romantic you are, but how much do you believe in true love, in a deep connection. Jesse practically says it himself in his casual reference to the Bee Gees. At the same time, I once again wonder how much of this was planned from the start. If it wasn’t, credit to Linklater and his collaborators for finding the clues he and Kim Krizan left for them in Before Sunrise. Remember that time travel concept Jesse uses to convince Celine to jump off the train with him? It’s ripe to make a return. Before Midnight seemingly ends, but really, it takes us back to the start, to the initial “will they or won’t they.” It’s time to take another jump...or get on separate trains.

It’s all down to your perception. And how you interpret the way Jesse and Celine have shared with you their own perceptions of the time they spent together. There is no right answer, no one single timeline from here, but one for each person partaking in the experience.


Confession: I didn’t see Before Sunset during its theatrical run, it was a couple of years before I finally gave in and checked it out. I had dismissed the notion of a sequel to Before Sunrise [review], being in my early 30s and still full of strange and precious ideals about story, I had rejected the idea that the magic could be recaptured or that we needed to know if Jesse and Celine ever saw each other again. It wasn’t until the graphic designer working on my graphic novel with Joëlle Jones, 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, gave me a DVD copy and insisted that I give it a try that I finally did. And was pleasantly surprised.

I mention this in part because how Jesse (still played by Ethan Hawke) answers the questions about the book he wrote fictionalizing the events of Before Sunrise sounds a lot like how I answer questions about my books. Specifically, the “did they or didn’t they” ending being a litmus test for how romantic you are. I give the same answer about the ending of 12 Reasons Why I Love Her.

Clarification: I am re-watching each movie of the Before Trilogy and writing about it afterwards. Thus, when I wrote my Before Sunrise review, I had not yet watched Before Sunset, and so when I wrote that each moment of that movie was every moment of the series, I had no idea that Jesse says the same thing, also in the scene discussing his book, in this entry. What can I say, we share a wavelength.

And the Affair to Remember [review] comparison? Fitting that the reunion of Jesse and Celine echoes the “did you or didn’t you” of the final scenes of the Leo McCarey film, though with a much lighter touch...before moving on. In Affair it was the end; in Sunset, the start.

Before Sunset is the very definition of a middle part of a trilogy. It’s a bit darker, a bit more serious. It feels incomplete, acting as the connection between the kick-off and the finale. And like most second parts, many fans are going to argue that it’s the best. For all the reasons cited.

Richard Linklater gets this. He’s not setting out to make a crowd-pleasing affirmation of Before Sunrise’s goopier potentialities. Before Sunset has a level of sincerity about what it means to be in one’s 30s that underlines how sincere its predecessor was about capturing the airiness of being in your early 20s. They’ve had a whole life to live, to fail, to lose or hang onto their romantic notions. Amusingly, Jesse is more hopeful now, and Celine (Julie Delpy) is a politically driven realist. Where their paths diverged somehow caused him to increase his belief, and for her to tamp her romance down. Then again, he is also in an unhappy marriage, so maybe by being so grounded he can appreciate feelings that are less so. I mean, there is a definite irony to her being jaded by romance, when he suffered the true disappointment; yet, her failure to carry through has arrested her emotional development. She is not sure she can ever again feel the way she did during their Viennese dalliance.

Though, even as she points out, Jesse has arrested himself. He has chosen to stay in that moment, regardless of how much his life charges on. The impetus for their reunion in Before Sunset is that he has written a novel about their one night together, and the book tour has brought him to Paris. This adds a fun metatextual layer to the movie. They are fictional characters that, at least for a brief period of the movie, are grappling with fictional versions of themselves. More importantly, though, it brings up the question of perception: his version of events vs. hers.

Or, perhaps more precisely, it questions the quality of a particular witness or narrator: how does their retelling of Before Sunrise change based on what they prefer to hide or celebrate. Of course, those alterations are based on what they feel and what they wish to suppress or keep secret--a tactic that spills over into how they represent their current life. Both begin with a desire to present their best face, forgetting that they are with the only person who is really capable of unmasking their pretenses. And they only have a couple of hours to get the job done. He has to leave for the airport at 7:30.

Fitting into the collegiate preoccupations both Jesse and Celine had in Before Sunrise, Before Sunset uses their ill-fated first reunion as a way to ponder questions of faith, the “what if” scenarios suggesting a different path for the wannabe lovers. Sure, they would have been different if they had seen it through, but not necessarily for the better. Is it possible that they needed to shed their youthful ideology in order to really be together? Would they have lasted if they had run with that first blush of emotion and not gathered the life experience that would give them the tools and tenacity to commit? Probably not. And thus, it is befitting that Before Sunset fails to end with a grand declaration, fading out instead on a quiet recommitment to love.

In terms of style and approach, not much has changed here, though it’s clear that budget and nearly a decade of work under their belts has improved all skills. The camerawork is cleaner, the look of the film more polished--but that could be an uptick in technology giving all indie filmmakers a leg up. Lee Daniel shot both movies, as he has many Linklater efforts, including Dazed and Confused [review 1, 2] and Boyhood [review], so I imagine the two had quite a rapport by this outing. Daniel also has a lot of documentary credits on his resume, which suggests certain skills he certainly could apply here.

Luckily, this progression helps rather than hurts. If the first film has the scruffiness of youth, this has the sheen of success, the characters showing off at a time when they can and when making sure everyone knows you’ve accomplished something matters. It can’t be the same every time...and as we’ll see, it won’t be.

Saturday, February 2, 2019


My first thought in rewatching Before Sunrise was to wonder if they had a plan all along. Back in 1995, were writers Richard Linklater and Kim Krizan already looking ahead to 2013, imagining their decades-spanning Before Trilogy, and laying tracks for the relationship to come? Because it’s hard not to flash forward to the third chapter when Jesse and Celine’s relationship is experiencing friction while watching how it originally came together. [Link to my original Before Midnight review; link to my 2018 re-review.]

It’s all right there in the first scene. Celine (Julie Delpy) is reading  book on the train, and a German couple arguing forces her to retreat to another empty seat on the car. This puts her across from Jesse (Ethan Hawke), a fellow reader and another solo traveler. The bickering gives them a reason to chat, and Celine shares a factoid about how when men and women grow older, they physically lose the ability to hear each other; Jesse then wonders if that’s how couples manage to stay together, evolving to a state where they contentedly tune each other out. The problems of the old become the meet-cute of the young.

To examine this, to leap ahead in time, is to actually indulge in Jesse’s own winning argument for convincing Celine to leave the train: imagine yourself in twenty years, married with children, and you have no idea if one of those men you met but did not hook up with would have been more exciting than your boring, familiar husband. Jesse offers himself as the predictive answer, proposing that Celine see this excursion as a time travel experiment. And in a sense, this relationship will be timeless. Jesse and Celine are of this moment, and this moment is every moment, a time capsule that remains relevant even as it updates itself. This is version 1.0, and in nine years we will get 2.0, and nine more 3.0. Added layer for me: they meet on my birthday, so I probably feel the time more than any of you.

The future and mortality are running themes of the conversations in Before Sunrise--a movie that is, conceptually, one long chat, as the two young lovers stroll Vienna and get to know one another, the audience falling for the pair as they fall for one another. These morbid thoughts aren’t really surprising. Is there any stage of life where one feels a more pronounced obsession with death than in one’s youth? Is that not the whole point of Romantic poetry? One of the best things about Before Sunrise is how unashamedly young it is, how Linklater and Krizan lean into the grand ideas that possess a growing mind, no matter how silly or pretentious they may be. Thus we can forgive Jesse for his self-regard, surface-level “big” thinking, and sheer punchableness, his gray T-shirt and leather jacket, his grunge goatee. It was the early ’90s, after all. He looks like a version of Chris Cornell if Chris Cornell were a glass of milk that someone put ice cubes in and the ice had melted.

This paragraph is a placeholder/palate cleanser because I’m pretty proud of that image and I want you to take a second to really imagine it.

There’s a beauty to the writing here in how perfectly imperfect these two are for one another. The script could have simply relied on the cliché division between Europeans and Americans, that she is more sophisticated and worldly and he’s an accidental tourist waiting to happen; instead, it goes deeper into that divide to look at their personalities. Despite her fatalism, Celine is open to the world, ready to accept the proclamations of a grisly palm reader or the improvised street poetry of a homeless Lord Byron; Jesse is the know-it-all American male, too aware of the angles to enjoy the shape of them. It’s what leads to their only real conflict. Yet, we may also surmise that it’s no conflict at all, that he likes her daffy indulgences, and she appreciates how he preens for her. She’s smart enough to see that he needs to be seen as smart himself, confident enough to call him stupid, and enough of a romantic herself to take the compliment. One of the best scenes is watching her bust his ego by making fun of their first kiss. Credit to Hawke, he seems to get this guy, because he quickly turns the bruised feelings into self-aware laughter.

Both performances here are easygoing, natural, and unaffected--perfectly in sync with the ultra-indie shooting style (nothing fancy here, just the actors, the camera, and the city). Hawke is more prone to acting, including demonstrative hand gestures and fidgety business, but it fits how Jesse himself is performing. On her side of things, Celine is more laid back, perhaps less invested, but again, that fits her personality. She’s open to whatever happens, he’s intent on making it happen.

It’s a charming little dance, staying just on the right side of mawkish for most of the narrative to allow for the filmmakers to go whole hog at the end, stamping Before Sunrise with an Affair to Remember-style ending, where a promise is made to prove this is more than a one-night stand by returning to the spot where they parted in six months time.

Only for us it would it would be considerably longer than that before we’d find out if that promise remained unbroken.