Criterion Collection released Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy last month, and Michelle can’t stop talking about it. Here’s her review of the first film, Before Sunrise.
In Richard Linklater’s 1995 minimalist, independent romance film Before Sunrise, two twenty-somethings meet on a train and decide to take a chance on hanging out before they reach their destinations. It sounds simple, and it is, but it’s also something very profound and beautiful. Jesse (Ethan Hawke), an American traveling Europe after venturing off to meet a girl which didn’t work out meets Celine (Julie Delpy), a French woman traveling home after visiting her grandmother in Budapest. They strike up a conversation on the train and when they realize how short lived it was, they decide to take the plunge and get off at the stop together and spend the day hanging out. A foreign city, two strangers, one night, and a story that lives on forever. This is Before Sunrise.
The film is dialogue heavy and driven by the conversations between Jesse and Celine, because the film simply just follows them walking around Vienna. Their conversations develop over the duration of their day and night and cover a wide-range of topics from love, religion, relationships, feminism, politics, and more. Jesse is evidently cynical towards most things, especially love, even though he’s a romantic at his core. Celine is scholarly and references her education often, but she’s deeply romantic although sometimes quite doubtful. The two exchange ideas, which sometimes leads to disagreement, but their conversation never falters or dies. As the night goes on and the subject of their time together ending shortly comes up frequently, the two begin to open up more. It becomes obvious they are developing an oddly fresh and unexpected set of feelings for one another, especially as they begin to expose more of who they are to one another. With the notion that they will never see each other again, the two unwind and relax in the comfort of one another, sharing secrets and experiences, and expressing affection.
There’s an undeniable chemistry between Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy that makes you fall in love with their characters as they fall in love with each other. Two kids from Generation X, their attitudes, opinions, positions, etc. all feel relevant, especially as a twenty-something myself. I first saw this film when I was about seven and I fell in love with it. I’ve claimed it as my favorite film of all time, and definitely my favorite of the trilogy, but as I’ve revisited the film in my adulthood, I’ve found that there is so much to this minimalistic film that I never picked up on. The importance of conversation, the beauty in exchanging parts of yourself with a stranger, discovering someone else and discovering yourself through them, and the idea that love can come out of the blue. It doesn’t follow the standards of a typical romance film, and it feels smarter than the tropes of the genre. However, it doesn’t feel totally unrealistic and foreign either. There’s a natural state that exists throughout the film, created by the shots, the interactions with people within the film, the simplicity in the body language between Delpy and Hawke, and the raw context within the dialogue which always feels like a real conversation. The emotion behind their every move, every line, and their inevitable departure never feels like acting, and when they eventually say goodbye to one another it actually translates as Hawke and Delpy saying their farewells to one another for real.
There are a few important scenes that really define the relationship forming between the two, and are prime examples of the chemistry of Hawke and Delpy. There’s a scene in a record shop in a listening booth (see the clip below), a moment in a restaurant where the two pretend to call home and explain their experience with each other, a brief moment walking through an alley where Celine reveals an important point about love, and the morning after by the fountain. I could layout so many other scenes, some major and others subtle, but these are the few that I always think of when I remember why I love this film.
Please indulge in how simple, genuine, and extraordinary this scene is. It captures the budding love between two young individuals, the intensity of intimacy, and the anxiousness of wanting to know someone. If you’ve ever been so lucky to meet someone you were meant to and you want to remember how unbelievable that felt, this scene will spark up your nostalgia. Plus, who doesn’t love a good Kath Bloom tune.
Before Sunrise set forth the foundation for two other films involving Jesse and Celine, and they are equally as moving and real as the first. Before Sunset and Before Midnight carry on the narrative of these two strangers, incorporate time as it moves on in the real world, and allows for Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy’s fantastic chemistry to evolve over time. I cannot recommend this film, and the other two, enough and I could go on for days, weeks, months, years about how important they are to me. Please if you haven’t seen them, check them out and if you’re still into collecting hard copies like I am, invest in the Criterion Collection box set. PS: I cried when they announced they were releasing that because I’ve waited, what feels like, my whole life for it.