Before Sunrise is a romance movie, but it isn’t your typical romance movie. It is stripped down to its essence, bare, and actually quite powerful. It doesn’t have any flashy characters, no raunchy and contrived sex scenes, no cheesy kisses, and no hunks. It’s a movie about two people who happen to meet each other on the same train and how they bond over the course of a single night. There is nothing else.
There is actually really nothing else, because Richard Linklater minimalises everything and leaves us with nothing but little episodes — or vignettes — of conversation as his two lead characters get to know each other. Something needs to be present for this sort of formula to work: good dialogue. Luckily, Before Sunrise has amazing dialogue. From the very first sequence on the train, we are sucked into discussions of childhoods and dreams, and both Hawke and Delpy are so candid with each other that they almost demand our full attention. I gladly gave mine.
They play Jesse and Celine respectively. One’s a cocky American and the other’s a shy but outgoing French student. On paper it doesn’t seem like they’d be a good match, but they are; they are almost the perfect match, because they bounce off each other effortlessly. They meet on a train; they’re both heading for different destinations, but fate it seems has other plans for them. Celine alights with Jesse in Vienna, and the two decide to wander its streets and alleyways throughout the night, before Jesse has to catch a plane back to the States the following morning. If you think about it, it’s an immense task, asking two actors to carry the weight of an entire film. They both appear in almost every single scene, and our attention is never drawn away from them. They need to be flawless.
What’s interesting though, is that the first part of their unadventurous adventure is the most captivating. It’s the establishing of their relationship that runs the deepest. Take for example the scene in the music store listening room. It’s a wonderful little moment when nothing is said, yet the actions — and reactions — of both characters speak volumes. Jesse and Celine exchange stares; sometimes they alternate stares. Jesse moves in for a kiss, but withdraws when Celine turns her head unknowingly (or perhaps knowingly). Then she looks at him while he looks away; her eyes revealing how she truly feels. How many times have we been in this same situation? It’s a perfectly sweet yet awkward moment, and both Hawke and Delpy play it with ease.
The movie’s setting is equally important in telling us something about our two lovebirds. Like I mentioned earlier, the story is broken up into little episodes of conversation — instead of a massive linear one — and the variety of locations within Vienna that are presented help segment each part. It’s almost as if new chapters of Jesse’s and Celine’s lives open with each scene, instead of the same one continuing. This might actually be intentional, for Linklater weaves a subliminal thread of strangeness into his dialogue: Jesse talks to Celine about time, and about thinking about her past. Then they spend an entire night enveloped in each other’s company, hopping from scene to scene without any real sense of continuity. When they wake up the next morning, Jesse says that they’re back in real time. Why does he say this? What does he mean by “real time”? Were they not in real time before? It’s an interesting thought.
I would give any limb of my body to have a night like the one Jesse and Celine share. It’s not like any other night. It’s not fake or unbelievable; in fact it’s quite the opposite. I can see myself talking about the things they talk about. I can see myself having imaginary phone calls with my best friend just to express my true feelings for a girl. I can see myself walking aimlessly through a beautiful city, not caring about where I end up because I’d be in great company. I can see myself falling in love in one night. Before Sunrise is a romance movie, but ironically it’s more about companionship and the ability to grasp — and maintain — the undivided attention of the significant other than it is about love. I’m not even sure our characters are in love by the time the movie ends. They are finding that out for themselves.
Best Moment | There are a few scenes that stood out for me. One’s the music store listening room that I talked about earlier, and the other’s the scene at the diner, where Jesse and Celine fake phone calls to very sweetly express their true thoughts and feelings to one another. Great script; great acting.
Worst Moment | Can’t think of one.