Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Before Sunrise (1995)

Fig 1 - Before Sunrise Poster
Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise tells the story of a fleeting romance between two young people who meet whilst travelling across Europe. Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy) meet on a train after an argumentative couple brings one of them to move seats. Their chemistry is immediately apparent and though Céline is headed towards Paris, Jesse convinces her to spend the day with him in Vienna. The two spend the entire day together in an aimless fashion, indulging in the German culture and learning more about each other as they go. Much of their time is spent discussing aspirations and opinions, many of which relating back to the idea of relationships, with plenty of flirtatious tangents and spontaneous hi-jinks as they stroll the cobbled streets hand in hand. Ultimately however, it becomes clear that they must part ways at some point. But will they reach a compromise to meet again before sunrise?

I've come to realise I am quite an advocate for romantic comedies when done correctly, and Before Sunrise serves as a great example of this. What the schmaltzy poster doesn't capture is the realism the film manages to achieve through the chemistry of it's leads and the gorgeous cityscape backdrop that feels like a link between their worlds. Jesse is an American and Céline is Parisian, thus they both find common ground in being cultural minorities. Their burgeoning relationship is established from the beginning using extensive shots of their discussions. The long shots give their repartee a very believable feeling and allows the actors time to perform and react to the dialogue as if it were occurring spontaneously. It's clearly influenced by the likes of Annie Hall (1977), though the film only dabbles in the more tedious aspects of 'relationship breakdowns'. In a way it is more comparable to Sunrise (1927) in which a married couple rekindle their love by spending an idealistic day together (minus the murder plot).

Fig 2 - Before Sunrise - Jesse and Céline
The film so beautifully captures the transient feelings of excitement and nerves that one experiences on the brink of initial adoration. There is a lovely moment in which Jesse and Céline are standing in the listening booth of a record shop just after arriving in Vienna. The scene plays out uncut with no dialogue as the two stand tightly adjacent, not knowing where to look but also wanting to look right at each other. It is clear in this moment, just based on their body language, that the awkward titillation of this scenario is happening all too soon. It is as though they have come to terms with how short this day will be and thus want to condense the rush of their meeting into the few hours they have. And it is really just a little too perfect to be real. But it never uses editing or musical scores to cue an emotional reaction. The environment does this all seamlessly without you even realising it.

In a way, I am disheartened to see that the film spawned several sequels. I think there is something to be said for the fact that Jesse isn't running alongside Céline's train at the end, or that Céline doesn't suddenly show up on Jesse's bus. I like to imagine that, as they discuss, perhaps life just got in the way and they never did meet again. Either way, I really enjoyed Before Sunrise more than I expected to. Though it doesn't deviate too far from genre traditions, it's got a charming way of engrossing you in the lives of two strangers and will undoubtedly leave you with a little something in your eye.


Fig. 1 Before Sunrise Poster (1995) From: Before Sunrise - Directed by: Richard Linklater


Fig. 1 Before Sunrise Screenshot (1995) From: Before Sunrise - Directed by: Richard Linklater


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