Saturday 20 February 2016

Movie Review: Before Sunrise (1995)

A romantic drama about two young people forging an unlikely relationship over one amazing night, Before Sunrise refreshes the genre and create a memorable, magical experience.

On a train approaching Vienna, American tourist Jesse (Ethan Hawke) meets French student Celine (Julie Delpy) on her way to Paris. Both in their early twenties, they start talking, share a meal, establish a connection, and when the train pulls into Vienna, Jesse on a whim asks Julie to hop out and spend the night with him walking through the city, as he awaits a morning flight back to the US. She agrees.

Jesse and Celine wander through Vienna engaged in non-stop conversation, spending time on trams, in public squares and coffee shops. They ride a Ferris wheel and a river boat, and walk through a public park and narrow, winding streets. A palm reader predicts Celine's future, while a street poet composes a poem for the couple. Together Jesse and Celine watch an earthy public dance performance and wander through a cemetery for victims of suicide. Throughout they talk about life, relationships, love, sexuality, and as they realize that they may both be falling into an extraordinary love, they start to wonder what will happen in the morning.

Before Sunrise is a small, low-key romance with huge ambitions to demonstrate what is possible. Directed and co-written by Richard Linklater, the film is an irresistible peek at two young people taking a risk and striking emotional gold. Resting almost entirely on dialogue and featuring a succession of long takes with minimal edits, Before Sunrise achieves the delightful momentum of an exciting sprint to the morning finish line, two souls progressing from inquisitiveness through happiness and towards infatuation.

By placing the story on neutral turf where both Jesse and Celine are outsiders, and adding a sunrise deadline, Linklater opens both of his characters to the idea of exploring without fear. Tourists seek what is new, and Before Sunrise is about two people pressed for time pushing themselves into a new emotional state. They have no time to waste, so they share quickly and openly, testing their ideas, hopes and fears, sending deep probes towards each other, and receiving instantaneous responses.

Linklater avoids any sense of a shallow connection based on mutual interests and experiences. The film creates in Jesse and Celine two distinct characters from different continents, with unique upbringings and quite contrasting attitudes towards life. Recently emotionally bruised, he has adopted a more confrontational attitude towards life, stepping in and taking risks with a cynical attitude. Celine is more careful and more intellectually curious, willing to enjoy mystical experiences, but also a worrier about the future and the meaning of life.

And there is an undercurrent of charm in how quickly Jesse and Celine adapt to each other. After Jesse recognizes that he come across as obtuse in his dismissal of the palm reader, he pulls back on expressing his full thoughts about the equally corny riverside poet. They learn from each other, growing as people as the night progresses, the relationship maturing at an intense pace, both receiving the stimulation to crave more.

Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy contribute enormously to the film's success, both in their mid-twenties but coming into the film with already impressive resumes. They achieve an easy, pragmatic chemistry that moves from companionship to the promise of intimacy, projecting the growing, somewhat unnerving realization that what started as a lark could evolve into something much more serious. The first half of the film is filled with Hawk and Delpy stealing sideways glances towards each other, wondering silently if this is all possible, while in the second half they grow comfortable staring intently and directly into welcoming eyes, open to the opportunities presented by a blossoming love.

Intimate, refreshing, understated and heartwarming, Before Sunrise is also one of the all-time best romantic movies.

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