Over the course of two days, I watched Before Sunrise, a 1995 film starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. It is a pretty famous film that came out in January 1995, the beginning of my college years when I began to watch actual films in actual theaters. So I’m not quite sure how I missed this popular romantic film. Of course, if I were to step into my “Wayback machine”, I would remember that in Jan ’95, I was the geeky awkward 18 year old college freshman who had not so much as even kissed a girl before. Meanwhile, most of my friends had gone on to hook up with women in long term relationships. In that scenario, the likelihood that I would want to go see a romantic film would be low. Years passed, I’m in a loving, committed relationship with a wonderful woman, and my wife is cool with her. [Just kidding.]
In Before Sunrise — A young man and woman meet on a train in Europe, they sense a connection or attraction to each other, and wind up spending one romantic evening together walking the streets of Vienna. Unfortunately, both know that this will probably be their only night together. So, is this the typical boy meets girl film? Not at all. I dislike the formulaic romantic Hollywood films, so when I heard about the plot of this film, I was intrigued. They just talk the entire film? Why yes, yes they do. Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) make an entire film about hanging out with each other, but so well acted that the characters feel genuine. The film was written by Richard Linklater and Kim Krizen, and directed by Linklater himself.
I think there is an interesting backstory to the screenplay — it is based on a true story (or events?), an experience where Linklater met a young woman in Philadelphia, and spent an entire night walking and talking. Philadelphia is no Vienna, but still, that’s interesting.
Anyhow, Linklater sets the seductive nature of the relationship just right. Our main female character, Celine, tells Jesse at one point that fulfilling “some male fantasy – meet a French girl on a train, fuck her, never see her again and have a great story to tell” – holds no interest to her. And they (probably) stick to that. I mean, how unique is that? Along the timeline of their night, they walk the streets, visit a cemetery, a fair, a record store, etc. As the hours pass, they slowly fall in love with each other. One of my two favorite scenes is where they are sitting across from each other, and conduct mock phone calls telling imaginary friends about this strange meet up in Vienna. The burgeoning love and attraction is in the air, and they tell their imaginary friends how much they like each other, and what a novel way to tell someone you like them.
The other scene that really wowed me were the end scenes where the camera pans over the same locations in Vienna where Jesse and Celine spent their time, but now seen in the light of early morning. You see an ordinary fountain or alleyway or other spot, but you can sense and feel and remember the emotions felt in those spots only a few hours earlier. It is as if those ordinary spots are now haunted or infused with the ghosts and emotions of people long gone from there. Very moving in a quiet yet powerful way.
A romantic film with no crazy mixup at the 3/4ths mark to create drama. No sassy black girlfriend to provide comedy. No women friends dancing and singing. No weird sexual situations for cheap comedy laughs. Only a genuine romance. How refreshing.