Before Sunrise (1995)
Jesse: Ethan Hawke
Celine: Julie Delpy
Directed By Richard Linklater. Running Time: 100 Minutes. Rated R
Say Anything, When Harry Met Sally, Casablanca and A Room With A View. These are some of the greatest romances of all-time. They are celebrated for many reasons. In each case the writing and acting are exceptional, the dialogue unbelievable and the directing subtle, but perfect. However, what really made these films and others such timeless classics is that beneath everything within these movies is a core of painfully honest truths about relationships, the nature of love and it’s complexities.
Add director Richard Linklater’s sublime 1995 romance “Before Sunrise” to this list(as well as it’s sequel Before Sunset) of what a romantic film could be if actual time were spent on an intelligent script instead of the usual cliche-ridden and cringe-worthy tripe we normally are forced to sit through.
The plot could be described as minimalist at best. Two people meet on a train heading toward Vienna, Austria. One is an American named Jesse(Ethan Hawke) on his way home. His French counterpart is Celine, a student at the Sorbonne in Paris who is coming from Budapest where she was visiting her grandmother.
After a meet-cute on the train, they begin talking and as his train nears Vienna, he convinces her into getting off with him and spending the night walking and talking until he catches his flight the next day. What ensues is essentially one endless conversation that takes place over the course of 14 hours.
These two begin what I consider to be one of the greatest romances ever put onto celluloid. What follows their initial meeting is a one night romance that is at times more real, true and beautiful than some whole marriages.
This magical night and it’s circumstances allow the characters to reveal far more about themselves than they normally would. Free of high expectations for themselves and obviously reveling in their connection, Jesse and Celine delve deeply and actually appear to be truly excited to hear what the other has to say. In short, they are intoxicated by one another’s conversation.
And it’s that conversation that is possibly the greatest aspect of the movie. Where we are lucky to get a handful of scenes in most romantic movies, that show a couple getting to know one another, Before Sunrise’s whole screen time shows this period. Instead of a montage of scenes or conversations, we are privy to the highlights of their conversations. It’s an aspect of a budding relationship that is often so overlooked in an most movies, because their is a formulaic plot that needs to be fulfilled and yet, we are expected to always believe the couple on screen is really in love. That can sometimes be a tall order, but in Before Sunrise, we are convinced early and that conclusion is reinforced continually onward.
What keeps the tension high in a movie comprised of two people jumping from one conversation to another? Like an hour glass, their sands of time are slowly, yet surely slipping away and his flight and early morning hours begin to creep near. They grapple with and against the possibility of continuing this burgeoning relationship and with each passing hour, each knows that their magical night is one step closer to coming to and end that neither of them wants to see happen.
And boy do those hours go by fast for our couple. At one point in the movie, both decided to make the most of this one-in-a-lifetime night and leave it at that. No phone calls, no letters but by the platform with time waning for Celine to leave, their resolve crumbled. They decided to meet up again 6 months later to the day and pick up where they left off. The ending is ambiguous. Will they keep their meeting. Only time(and a sequel later) will tell.
One of the things we see in the film that are uncommon to most movies of the same genre, are the subleties and nuances of body language. These all-important details are magnified in many different scenes all throughout the movie. For instance, there is a scene in a listening booth where Jesse and Celine glance at one another. It lasts roughly a minute long uninterrupted and through that time we watch as both Jess and Celine glance at one another and shyly look away. Male or female, we have all done this to a person we are attracted to, and that scene resonates each time I watch it.
Credit must go to both actors of course. Ethan Hawke(Reality Bites) and Julie Delpy(Europa, Europa) were among the best up-and-coming actors of their generation. Their performances are so natural, we feel more like voyeurs than people simply watching a film. That is not an achievement to be taken lightly. I know that Before Sunrise was a very small film, but the fact that these actors and this film did not garner more awards consideration is terrible.
In my view, Before Sunrise stands as one of the best romantic genre films ever and one of the best films of all-time in my book. It’s a must see for even the cynical out there.
Before Sunrise is not for everyone. It’s what is affectionately known as a talkie. Many people can find it hard to sit through because to them, there is not real story and dialogue and other things are considered unimportant. If you are like this, then don’t feel as though you must find this movie great or even watch it. However, if you like nuance, and the possibility of seeing a display of love that is both affirming and convincing, then grab some popcorn, get comfy and pop this movie in. I dont’ think you will be dissapointed.