Meeting a complete stranger in public for the first time with no prior interaction is something 99% of the population would just rather avoid let alone starting a conversation. It’s easier to ignore people with the advancements in technology but not so much in the 1990’s. One thing we can all agree on which is annoying is listening to two other strangers argue who have blatant disregard for others in their surroundings. That’s enough for two random people to make eye contact and smirk while shaking their heads in agreement. But to strike up a conversation and begin to share their life stories and fall helplessly in love with each other is another thing entirely. One is an American aimlessly traveling around Europe heading to Vienna to fly back home and the other is a French citizen traveling back from Budapest to school.
The two just so happen to hit it off (because that happens every day right) and he asks her to get off the train with him in Vienna and spend the day with him in a spur of the moment opportunity. This chance encounter rarely happens and when it does there is a 50/50 shot of predicting the outcome. The initial conversation isn’t shallow or awkward – it’s a deep and meaningful conversation that these two complete strangers, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) form a genuine connection by talking and listening to one another.
“You know what’s the worst thing about somebody breaking up with you? It’s when you remember how little you thought about the people you broke up with and you realize that is how little they’re thinking of you. You know, you’d like to think you’re both in all this pain but they’re just like “Hey, I’m glad you’re gone”.
Celine is easily swayed by Jesse to get off the train with him and spend the night. They have no direction, nowhere fancy to stay and a lot of spending money – just two people walking around and experiencing life around them. There is absolutely zero pressure on either of them to make a first move and that’s where the beauty of this film lies. Director Richard Linklater captures the give and take cat and mouse game of flirtation with subtle looks and friendly gestures and genuine conversation. There is the sexual tension, of course, but the respect Jesse and Celine have for one another is stronger to just ruin a perfectly good day. Yes, they talk about it in detail, but both let it happen organically at its own pace; there is no rushing this process.
The film feels extremely intimate thanks to cinematographer Lee Daniel. Both Jesse and Celine are shot in a way that it feels realistic – that we as the audience are right along with them on their date watching their love story blossom from afar. The focus is always on Jesse and Celine as it should be – it’s their story. Neither is bothered by their surroundings in fact the interactions with the local people they meet on their tour of the city add to the connection these two feel for each other. There’s no drama or heavy arguing or anything to distract the two from talking about life and what it truly means to them. It’s just two people talking, and it’s natural with every scene.
The city of Vienna is almost the third main character in the film. It’s a city that feels alive with so much going on and Linklater is able to have Vienna interact with Jesse and Celine. It’s a colorful city that has beautiful scenery and a rich history. The city itself challenges the conversation with different topics wherever the two head to next. Religion is brought up in a church and so on. Every new location we meet a local who almost steals their respective scene if Jesse and Celine weren’t incredibly interesting already.
“Everybody’s parents fucked them up. Rich kids parents gave them too much. Poor kids, not enough. You know, too much attention, not enough attention. They either left them or they stuck around and taught them the wrong things.”
Jesse is charming, he’s respectful but he’s also daring and courageous. It takes a lot to put yourself out there and wear your heart on your sleeve. He does it with a simplicity and chivalry that isn’t as present in society anymore. Celine is smart, funny, trusting and a beautiful soul. Ethan and Julie have infectious chemistry together and their performances take over the film because of how well they act together. To each other they are the most important person that has ever come into their lives. Nothing else matters but being in their company and they are able to let go of any fear holding them back to just live in the moment. Jesse and Celine are truly free spirits that become soulmates before having their first kiss.
The first kiss has to be impactful to work. It’s a part of the natural progression of their night together and their new relationship. The only downfall of the film (and it’s not that big of a deal, I’m just being petty) is the length of the day itself. The nighttime kept going on and on but in this case, time has no structure, it’s not relative since Jesse and Celine are able to ignore everything around them.
The writing is blunt and to the point. Linklater’s script allows for his characters to live freely in a bubble of reality that feels elegant in it’s simplicity. We are able to understand these characters on a deeper level within the first few minutes of their interaction – who they are, what they want, family life, childhood & past relationships. Linklater treats the audience intelligently by portraying Jesse and Celine in the same vein. There’s no hint of jealously when discussing past relationships – they are able to share their experiences without being judged.
Overall, Before Sunrise is a truly spectacular film about two people who feel very realistic. This is the type of love story that is always stylized but comes off grounded thanks to the direction and focus on the main characters. There is no gimmick or ulterior motive, it’s just a story about two people finding themselves and love in each other – nothing more and nothing less. The performances are beautiful with a breath taking back drop. If I were to rate Before Sunrise, I’d rate it a 5 out of 5.
So, tell me guys, have you seen Before Sunrise and if so, what do you think about it? Do you agree or disagree with me? Comment below or send me an email and let me know what you think.
Before Sunrise is written & directed by Richard Linklater is Rated R and has a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. Before Sunrise was released on January 27th, 1995 and has a runtime of 1 hour and 45 minutes. Before Sunrise can be bought by online retailers such as iTunes, Google, Amazon and Vudu.
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