Movie Review: Before Sunrise

Sunrise (Medellín)

In director Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise (1995)–the first in what is now a trilogy of romantic films–he introduces us to Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), two romantic hopefuls who have a fateful meeting on a train to Vienna. Featuring the same quiet but assured directing style as Linklater’s cult-classic Dazed and Confused, Sunrise strips away many of the romantic genre’s excess–no lame-brain sub-plots or corny humor to pad the time–and leaves only the meet-cute.

Before Sunrise is essentially a 90 minute meet-cute, where Linklater devotes the entire running time to Jesse and Celine getting to know each other, and eventually falling in love. More mainstream romantic films are really about selling the audience on those moments–the romantic kiss, the sex, and the eventual “I love you” ending that comes with the territory–without ever really caring how they get there. It’s pornographic. What is wonderful about Before Sunrise is that it is all about those moments in between: two intelligent people offering their opinions on a number of subjects. The film builds the argument that Jesse and Celine are meant for each other, rather than forcing it on the audience simply because “they’re both beautiful people, no?”

The ending of Sunrise is ambiguous: After a day in Vienna, Jesse and Celine part ways, promising each other that they’ll see each other soon. But life is filled with uncertainty, and the couple leave, not knowing if they’ll ever see each other again.

I wonder if that ending plays differently knowing that two sequels–2004’s Before Sunset and 2013’s Before Midnight–reveal that Jesse and Celine do meet again. Sunrise’s first sequel, Sunset, takes place nine years after Jesse and Celine’s first meeting. Jesse, now a celebrated novelist, is currently on a book-tour for his first novel in Paris, one that is strongly inspired by his one-day romance with Celine. Continuing the previous film’s minimalist thread, Sunset smartly does not contain a convoluted plot to get Jesse and Celine back together; instead, Celine meets Jesse at one of his book signings, and the pair pick up where they left off. Sunset manages to be even more barebones than the first film, focusing almost exclusively on the couple.

The first film featured Vienna heavily in both its cityscapes and the various characters that walked its streets. At a brisk 80 minutes, the film is only a couple moments in Jesse and Celine’s life, adopting a more real-time approach. However, Linklater wastes no time and a nervous energy fills the air the moment Jesse and Celine meet again. Has it been too long? Have these people changed so much that it’s impossible to pick up where they left off? If Sunrise brought up the question of whether these two are meant for each other, then Sunset spends its entire running time answering that question. While Jesse and Celine busy themselves with conversations on politics and spirituality, every blocked movement, facial expression, and camera placement speaks to the intensity of these lover’s situation. Of course, they’re both at different points in their lives–especially their love lives. Jesse is now married and with a son, and Celine is in a long-term relationship herself. But their past rendezvous has had a strong affect on who they now are.

But it doesn’t matter how explosive the romance is if its two leads are wooden and boring. Sunset makes me never want to see an Ethan Hawke or Julie Delpy featured film ever again. Not because they are bad in their roles, but because both actors are so perfect, their acting seemingly so natural, that I can’t imagine them outside of this movie. Is it wrong to believe that Jesse and Celine actually did have a whirlwind romance and (hopefully) live together in some quaint European town for the rest of their lives? I don’t think so–that’s just the affect these characters have on me.

Before Sunrise has one of those endings that’s just perfect. an ending that says so much about the future of Celine and Jesse. It’s almost breathtaking that Linklater pulls it off, entirely through character development. I have yet to see the latest chapter in Celine and Jesse’s life, but I can’t wait to see these characters again.

Christopher Exantus is a young, dashing 23 year-old with hopes of making it big–or just enough to make some cash. Realizing that working at a dead-end job would be career suicide, Chris mercilessly banged his head upon his laptop computer and regularly pumps out personal reviews on film, pop-culture, and whatever else happens to catch his attention at the moment. Currently, his life goal is to become a fancy hipster living in a big, stupid hipsterish apartment in the city–and it will be awesome. He has a blog about film, and you can follow him on Twitter at @ceexantus.

Photo by Hugo Quintero, via Flickr.


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