Before Sunrise

28 Jun

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When young American man Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and French woman Celine (Julie Delpy) meet each other on a train in Europe, they quickly become enamored with each other. They spend a day together in Vienna, falling for each other more and more as the day goes on. Looming large over their day together though is the knowledge that, regardless of how they feel, this is likely to be the only day of their lives they spend in each others company.

I only heard of Before Sunrise recently, when I saw that there was a lot of buzz around a new release called Before Midnight. Intrigued by what was being billed as one of the films of 2013 to date, I discovered that it was actually part of a trilogy that spans almost 20 years. Before Sunrise, the first of the three, was released in 1995 and, as I quickly discovered, it is highly regarded by movie fans and critics alike. I quickly made it a priority to seek it out and watch it. I can’t tell you how glad I am that I was able to that.

The idea of a ‘romance’ film is not one that normally appeals to me. I, quite wrongly, have pre-conceived ideas of clichéd, soppy films where a couple are sickeningly in love and live happily ever after. I know, you shouldn’t pre-judge these things but it’s true that that is what springs to my mind when I hear the word ‘romance’. Well, Before Sunrise now stands as the film that has thankfully shattered that illusion for me.

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I only recently learned of the cinematic phrase ‘meet cute’ and have been looking for a reason to use it in a review ever since. Wikipedia defines ‘meet cute’ as thus; “…sometimes used to describe a situation in film, television, etc. in which a future romantic couple meets for the first time in a way that is considered adorable, entertaining, or amusing.” Well, this movie has a glorious meet cute. It’s so simple and so believable. Celine is sat next to a rowing couple on the train, and growing tired of them, she moves down the carriage. She chooses a seat close to Jesse and catches his eye. Clearly attracted to her, he strikes up conversation and everything grows from there. How believable is that? How many people do you think that must have happened to? This is how real people meet each other; it’s such an everyday, mundane situation that it instantly makes the characters relatable. Barely five minutes have passed and the viewer is hooked.

The rest of the movie is based entirely around the dialogue between Jesse and Celine. On the train, they quickly get to discovering things about each other. Celine reveals some deep thoughts that hint at her neurosis; it’s a bit quick to be talking to a stranger like this but I loved the nature of the conversation, they discuss the kind of things that real people feel and think about, the kind of things you consider but never talk about in case people think you’re crazy. If it felt a little quick for the pair to be conversing in this way, it was offset by the quality of the dialogue.

There are so many scenes in this film that develop the characters and their relationship naturally. Once they have decided to get off the train and spend this one day together, they wander around Vienna just getting to know each other better. One scene I loved a great deal was set in a record shop. Celine finds an album that she is intrigued by and discovers the store has a listening booth. She and Jesse take the record in there and just sit listening to it. The music is lovely and fits the mood well, but the quality of the scene comes from the actors and the direction. All we have while the song plays is a camera staring at Jesse and Celine. They say nothing; all they do is sit looking awkward, scared to make eye contact with each other. Everybody has been there, right? That nerve-shredding, “does she like me, is she thinking what I’m thinking?” feeling. It’s incredibly awkward to watch, but it’s also exciting, touching and real.

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As the couple traipse around the City, they are the only thing that matters. Although they visit various different places that help their conversations progress, the setting is almost completely irrelevant. I mean, it provides a gorgeous backdrop and director Richard Linklater makes great use of Vienna’s backstreets and canals to move the couple around, but it isn’t what we’re there for. All we care about is Jesse and Celine, and Linklater never ever lets the focus shift onto anything else. Once in Vienna, the couple spend a while on a different train. As they are sat next to each other, engaged in conversation, the camera focuses on them throughout. The angle and the view never shift; we just stare the two straight on, able to watch the subtleties perfectly. This is a technique used throughout that works wonders in heightening the intimacy between the viewer and the couple.

Another little touch that I liked was that, with them being in Vienna, there are obviously a lot of non-English speakers around them. In the brief moments where they are on screen instead of our leads, there are never any subtitles. It’s not that Linklater doesn’t want us to know what these people are saying – they just don’t matter. They are not relevant to the story; merely part of the environment, just as they are to Jesse and Celine. They are interested only in each other, and we in turn are interested only in them.

To pull off a film in which you essentially only have two characters, there is one key requirement – the acting has to be of a high standard. Wonderfully, Hawke and Delpy deliver big time. It would be no exaggeration to suggest their chemistry together is as good as any I have ever seen in a film. They just work together. Their delivery of their dialogue is perfect and they bounce off each other. They look like they must have enjoyed working together throughout.

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The whole movie oozes love. By that, I don’t mean mean in it’s story, but more in the making of the film. Linklater spends so much time on his characters that you sense he has a great affection for them. It feels like he is as interested in how they progress as the viewer is. The story itself is as basic as they come, you’ve essentially been told everything you need to know within the first five minutes. You know who your protagonists are, you have a good idea of their motivation and the ending has been broadly outlined from the beginning. There is little in the way of wasted exposition, Linklater just gets on with letting a fleeting romance blossom.

By the end of the film I was desperate for it to not to finish; “Please just give me five more minutes with them”, I thought, a sentiment apparently shared by Jesse and Celine. Linklater shows a skill for ending the film with class; the ending feels right for the movie that has been made. With no score to speak of and only the briefest appearances from supporting characters, this is an outstanding character-driven film. Despite being glorious to listen to, the dialogue sometimes feels a little hasty. There were times where Jesse said things that had me wondering, “Would he really say that at this point?” It doesn’t really matter though, as both characters and actors evoke such charm that these slightly unrealistic interchanges can be very easily overlooked.

As the film drew to a close, I felt as emotionally involved as either of the two leads. I felt like I knew them personally. As with Linklater, you sense both Hawke and Delpy feel genuine warmth towards the characters they are portraying. The story may be a work of fiction, but make no mistake these are very real people. They could be anybody, anywhere at almost any point in their lives. If the follow up movie, Before Sunset is better than this (as I have been lead to believe it is) then I know I am in for a real treat. This is a beautiful, incredibly intimate movie that I can only strongly recommend.

8/10

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3 Responses to “Before Sunrise”

  1. At The Back July 14, 2013 at 21:53 #

    It’s like we co-write our sentiments about the record shop scene.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Before Sunset | I Liked That Film - June 30, 2013

    […] but each knew they had only that one day together. Those events were charted in the excellent Before Sunrise. Now, in Before Sunset, chance and circumstance have brought the two together again, this time for […]

  2. Before Midnight | I Liked That Film - July 9, 2013

    […] This review will contain spoilers for Before Sunrise and Before Sunset – do not read on if you don’t want to know what happens up to this […]

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