In honor of Valentine's Day, our staff will be sharing some of their favorite romantic scenes all day long.
From its first moments sliding through the streets of Paris, to the final, crooning comfort of Nina Simone, Before Sunset is the romance that most films grasp for, but could never achieve -- soulmates in the real world. Ethan Hawke's Jesse and Julie Delpy's Celine are, at once, both icons of unobtainable and perfect love, and real, damaged, cynical beings suffering from a loss of idealism and the hard breaks in life. And nothing embodies it more perfectly than the car scene. I've written about this before, but never touched on what makes this the most romantic and real scene I've ever witnessed.
Jesse and Celine knew each other for a mere 24 hours before the were separated for 10 long years. Finally, they've reunited, walking through Paris and catching up on each other's lives. Jesse hides his pain in humor and earnestness, so desperate to reconnect with Celine that he will take it too far with bluntness and wide-eyed hope. Celine, meanwhile, is reserved. She cautiously reveals small segments of her life, deflecting Jesse's obvious advances and keeping her own inner turmoil well-hidden ... until they're riding in the car. Social niceties lose their power as the genuine, and heart-breaking feelings surface.
Finally, Celine's carefully built walls crumble and she admits that Jesse's book revealed the death of her idealism and the faults in her romantic life. As her feelings rush out in an increasing torrent of words, Jesse sits there awkwardly, letting a joke or two bubble out for lack of a better response, his hand held in the air, wanting to comfort her but having no idea how to proceed. She wants out, but Jesse calms her and reveals that his so-called perfect life is nothing but a lie. He's miserable, not able to love his wife like he should, feeling that he gave up on love when Celine wasn't there so many years ago. Now Celine sits awkwardly, putting out her hand to touch him, but pulling away just the same.
Everything that Hollywood tries to inject into their romances, plus the reality that we always hope for in cinematic love, rests in this scene. Jesse and Celine are the quintessential soulmates. They've only had 24 hours of contact, but even 10 years later, nothing compares to the connection between them. The chemistry is wildly palpable, as is the love. The challenge is life. They didn't reunite like planned, and have suffered because of their flawed attempts to find love elsewhere. They trust each other enough to reveal their most inner heartache and nightmares, and Hawke and Delpy deliver it in the most organic way -- how we start talking about problems with measured strength and clarity, before the pain unhinges composure and nothing can stop the words and pain.
The scene reveals romance like swelling music never could, nor lips intertwined in front of a setting sun. Emotions bubble from every word, look, and action, proving what we all already know -- that a little reality in romance goes a lot father than lazy, uninspired cliches and idealistic nonsense.