Before Sunrise (1995)


Director:  Richard Linklater
Cast:  Ethan HawkeJulie Delpy
Plot:  A young man and woman meet on a train in Europe, and wind up spending one romantic evening together in Vienna. Unfortunately, both know that this will probably be their only night together.

Genre:  Romance / Drama
Awards:  Won Best Director, and nominated for Golden Bear (Berlin).
Runtime:  105min
Rating:  NC16 for some strong language.

By the time the end credits of Before Sunrise roll off the screen, we would be left enthralled and absorbed by one of the great romance-dramas of the nineties.  Written and directed by Richard Linklater, the Texas-born filmmaker who rose to prominence in the independent cinema circuit with films such as Slacker (1991) and Dazed and Confused (1993), Before Sunrise is his third feature film and a prequel to Before Sunset (2004), released nearly a decade later with the same actors reprising their unforgettable roles as Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy).

Employing a narrative approach that has since become his trademark, Linklater sets a number of his films over the course of a single day.  In Before Sunrise, he sets it in Vienna, where youngsters Jesse and Celine meet by chance on a train.  Jesse is a hip and cool American who has to take a flight home the next morning, while Celine is a beautiful French woman who is starting classes next week back in France.  

Jesse asks Celine to accompany him until he takes his morning flight.  Celine, who is pleasantly surprised by his spontaneous invitation, joins him as they explore the sights of Vienna and meet strange but friendly people.

The entire film is literally just two persons staring and talking to each other but Linklater’s poignant and perceptive script provide the film with a heightened sense of realism.  The characters talk about everything from reincarnation to their first sexual feelings while playing verbal games with each other.  The camera never leaves them, as if there is a voyeur observing them.  

The naturalistic acting and Linklater’s occasional use of long takes give us that feeling of watching events unfolding in real-time.  Coupled with the postcard backdrop of Vienna, it is like an ode to the spirit of romance that ironically is so often lacking in films about romance.

We sense the characters’ attraction to each other, and this is communicated to us in the most subtle of ways. In perhaps the film’s most memorable scene, the couple nervously tries to avoid eye contact in an awkward situation listening to a record in a booth.  

In another scene in a moving tram, Jesse tries to secretly brush off a lock of hair from Celine, but when she looks up, he puts his hand away.  Such is Linklater’s observant eye and keen understanding of human nonverbal interaction that it is a joy to watch all these details at play.

The bittersweet ending brings tears, but it is not as devastating as Lean’s Brief Encounter (1945), which covers similar ground.  Jesse and Celine have already regarded their departure from each other as inevitable.  Even though we wish to see them spend another day, another week, or month together, or heck, even get married, we know that may not be the best for them in the long-term.  This emotional polarization of our feelings is deftly handled by Linklater, whose free-spirited film remains resonant to a whole generation of Gen X youths looking for love.  This is a must-watch!


*Last viewing - Mar '17
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