Directed by: Richard Linklater
Written by: Richard Linklater & Kim Krizan
Starring: Julie Delpy & Ethan Hawke
The manifestation of love is incalculable in the way two people can randomly meet and strike up a conversation that will change their lives forever. An interaction unpredictably brought together by fate and a promenade that reveals more than they ever thought they would with someone they just met. This fleeting nature of happenstance creates a beautiful vacuum for two people to meet.
On a train heading from Budapest to Vienna and beyond, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy) meet. After some great conversation, Jesse’s stop arrives in Vienna, with Céline staying on until Paris. Feeling a connection between them, Jesse asks if she would get off the train with him as he has one last night in Europe. Céline takes him up on the offer and the two wander the streets of Vienna.
Before Sunrise begins a trilogy of films that I adore with all of my soul. I find them hard to rank but this one just might be my favorite, because of how it depicts the fleeting nature of love and the small decisions that make a large impact in our lives. Taking public transportation puts someone in a place to interact with so many people and the chance of Céline and Jesse meeting feels like such slim odds. Then it proceeds and their conversation about getting off the train together. A chance to embrace their youth and take a chance of not looking back and regretting staying on the train. The connection was there but a future was never going to be certain, which begins their promenade.
Through this walk, they learn more about each other but also experience Vienna for its tourist attractions and the people that embody the city. The way they wander feels aimless but with a purpose. The chance Céline took with getting off the train had little emotional risk because Jesse would be leaving to go back to the United States the next morning and if he began to weird her out, she could just get another train to Paris at any time. They wander all over the city because Jesse does not even have enough money to stay at a hotel and rest before flying out. It makes their time bountiful in the moment but also incredibly limited in the grand scheme of life.
The entire scenario creates a bond between them, something that could all be for nothing but it could also change the trajectory of their lives. They’re different in their beliefs and overall attitude towards life. Jesse embodies American cynicism towards things that are unknown to him, especially in a different nation while Céline lives in such French optimism. Those attitudes delicately collide on different occasions as they begin to get closer to one another emotionally. The progression of their conversation displays the caution one has when unveiling their true nature to someone they just met. It shows in the slight pauses and pensive thoughts of whether you’re about to tell this person such emotionally raw information. Those subtleties come through by the incredible performances by the two leads.
Julie Delpy instantly became one of my favorite actors because of her portrayal of Céline and the power that character exudes. Someone who wants to build that connection but still protects herself from any harm, which is all she has experienced in relationships. She does not hold back, and probably loves too much, which she explains about her relationship status. Delpy brings forth this incredibly strong woman, who has strong feminist beliefs and doesn’t necessarily need a man, but there’s something about Jesse. She wears her feelings on her face and it gushes.
Ethan Hawke portrays such an American guy trying to find himself in a foreign land, but also trying to find something to restart his life. The purpose that brought him to Europe shook his entire foundation and finding Céline on the train gave him the opportunity to build something new, even if for one night. The cynicism comes through with Hawke’s performance with how he perceives love, sex, and the purely artistic merits of others. Jesse is someone who has been burned emotionally several times and his conversation with Céline saves him.
The magic of the film comes from the conversations and the topics they discuss in their walk through Vienna. On their stroll, they stop at different cafes and events happening around the city. Their presence in each of these locations is fleeting and just exists as the background to what they’re saying to each other. The camera’s place in the film simply follows them in this walk as well as capturing the architectural and human beauty of Vienna. A place that is foreign to both of them but becomes the home of something special for them. It seems so simple when thinking of it on a grander scale. It’s just two people walking through a city talking about life, but the cinematography does plenty of work in establishing each setting and sticking with them as the center of the story.
For the story to work, the dialogue needs to be incredibly engaging, which co-writers Richard Linklater and Kim Krizan do so exceptionally well. The conversations held between Jesse and Céline reach a variety of topics stretching from love to politics. They don’t always land on the same page on every topic, but it demonstrates the formation of a relationship that has incredible potential and happens to be on the clock because of their life circumstances. Their dialogue has such a sweetness to it that allows them to express how they feel about each other directly and indirectly. One of my favorite moments occurs when Céline mentions that she needs to call her friend to say that she’ll be late for the lunch they had planned when she got back to Paris. She then makes a phone out of her hand and asks Jesse to pretend to be her friend. Their back and forth reveals so much about the feelings they have developed in such a short period of time. From all of the features one could learn to adore and the strong emotional attachment that occurs.
As with all of the films in the trilogy, the titles signify the limited time these two have in their interactions. Everything they want to say or do must happen before the sun rises the next day and they must leave each other. That time begins to feel so constricted, because the more time they spend together, the less time they have, and the more they wish they had. It really asks you what you would do in that circumstance when you knew that you had to say goodbye in less than 24 hours to someone you gradually learn to love.
Before Sunrise tells a gorgeous and succinct story about two individuals, who took a chance that created an incredible bond. The charming conversations they held get highlighted by the elegant background of one of Europe’s most alluring cities. It provides the opportunity for these two to foster something they never expected. A day that just happens to be perfectly put together in a film that I constantly rewatch. I cannot stress how much I adore this feature and the collective effort to make something so emotionally resonant in the simplest way possible. With this film, it’s made evident that magic can happen with just a script, two actors, and a beautiful landscape.