BEFORE SUNRISE A
USA Austria Switzerland (105 mi) 1995 d: Richard Linklater
Interesting concept, as this movie is a choreography of connecting “small” moments between a young man and a woman, strangers who meet on a train, all pieced together by conversation, where the audience can’t really distinguish between what was written beforehand and what was improvised on the spot, which is what gives this film a feeling of genuine spontaneity throughout. Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke are French Sorbonne student Céline and American tourist Jessie, both of whom meet on a train not far from Vienna where Jessie is scheduled to catch a plane the next morning. But their conversation together is so personally intense, he takes a chance and asks if she’ll join him for the lay-over, which is about 14 hours before his morning flight. She, of course, agrees, and the film is nothing more than their few moments together before they go their own separate ways, Céline to Paris and Jessie back to the United States. Something of a travelogue of Vienna, as the film beautifully captures some of the romanticism of the city, from the architecture, the bridges over the Danube river as well as the many boats, the bars, the street café’s, and even the churches. As they amble down the street to carefully structured pans, Linklater blends their personalities with the ambience of the city. Céline is still something of a dreamer, bright, articulate, and sensuous, yet she’s unafraid to expose her vulnerabilities to a strange guy she’ll likely never see again, as she describes her experiences with love over coffee or wine, or even playing a pinball game. Somewhere on this adventure, she poetically mentions her belief that love is actually the spaces that exist between people. Following that cue, Linklater accentuates the silences between them, beautifully expressed in a sequence when they go into a private booth to listen to an LP album in a record store, which plays Kath Blooms’s song “Come Here” Kath Bloom - Come Here (Before Sunrise ) - YouTube (2:02), where the curious glances and anxious smiles are among the strongest images of the film, beautifully succinct and effortlessly true.
There are many beautiful moments in the film, as they discuss their first kiss, having to say goodbye, their previous relationships, their views on love, and even whether or not they should sleep together, all compressed into a tightly written script that never for a moment feels long, as they are continually interested in one another, obviously attracted, where spending time together is a luxury they would never have experienced had they not agreed to this brief interlude, as otherwise they would forever look back at their lives plagued by a neverending doubt about what could have been. As they walk or take busses or the train, they discover the beauty of one another as images of Vienna are etched in the viewer’s minds. It’s a picture postcard of the city, again filled with small intimate moments, as they spend the night exploring one another’s lives, sometimes holding hands, occasionally kissing, but usually it’s the looks on their faces that define what this movie is all about. One of the more memorable moments is in the morning as they walk down an empty street hand-in-hand, when they hear harpsichord music filling the air coming from a basement window, where they see a young man practicing, playing the music of Bach. This is certainly one of the best uses of music, as it simply sounds so sublime, which perfectly matches the moment. What really works in this film is the way nothing feels forced. Perhaps Jessie is a bit anxious initially, wondering if Céline will simply disappear out of his life, but once they step off the train, their lives begin to take shape as the movie progresses, and we begin to know them better than we know some of our own friends. Their intimacy is infectious, as are their romantic inclinations, as this is a truly imaginative film about falling in love expressed with intelligence and good taste, matching the audience’s impressions of Vienna as a city of culture, refinement, and exquisite charm. What better place for this to happen?