Bette Davis was once asked what happened after she and Paul Henreid finished their cigarettes in Now, Voyager. Surprisingly, she had a ready-made answer to a question she had obviously pondered for quite a while: Her Charlotte Vale stayed on at the sanitarium, helped Dr. Jaquith (Claude Rains) with his do-good work and eventually married him. Voyager, Now (let's call it) would have made a surprising sequel, not unlike the potent and vastly affecting postscript which Before Sunset has given to 1995's Before Sunrise.

Sunrise, sunset--both deadlines for Celine and Jesse (Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke), a sort of fast-forming and ever-so-fleeting Franco-American alliance. They last saw each other at the Venice train station, vowing to return to that spot six months later to resume a love affair only 14 hours old. Now, it's nine years later--in Paris--and they've only 80 minutes to sort it out.

Talk about catch-up! These two never seem to stop talking, once their paths reconverge on the Left Bank at Shakespeare & Co. He has turned into a budding novelist (much like the real-life Hawke), and he's at the end of a fatiguing tour to promote his new tome, which chronicles this long-ago one-night stand that could have altered his life and didn't.

She, having evolved into an environmental activist, saw him coming (via the bookstore flyers) and laid in wait for him until he has finished his Q&A's. Then, there are P&Q's to mind--and not much time to do it in: A limo is waiting to whisk him off to the airport and back to the wife and kid in the states, but she is a sight for sore eyes, so he reduces his driver to a cell-phone connection and starts to spend quality time with the old conquest.

The deadline weighs like lead on the reunion, yet it lightens it also, even gives it urgency. The time factor is never resolved until the closing moments of the film--ever-present and pressing until it is finally confronted head-on with a sweet and touching inevitability.

Director Richard Linklater, who created these characters with Kim Krizan in 1995, has new creators for the sequel--Hawke and Delpy, both of whom seem to be endlessly inventive in the charm department and keep the picture perking along on all cylinders. It's one of the few films that can coast right down to the finish line solely on the interplay of the two principals. There are a few more characters in the film, but not so you'd notice and not so you'd be distracted from the rekindled romance in the center ring.

Before Sunset flaps its gossamer wings beguilingly over the old Oscar Hammerstein II adage "Once you have found her, never let her go," demonstrating what happens when you do. It's a late date movie that gives young love a good name. More sequels, please.

-Harry Haun