Criterion Collection · Drama · Romance · United States

#857 Before Sunrise (1995)

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#860 Before Sunrise

1995 // USA // Richard Linklater

Criterion Collection (LINK)

Have you seen Before Sunrise? I’m sure you’ve heard of it at least. You know it’s the “small” indie film directed by Richard Linklater in 1995, telling a brief encounter type of love story in Vienna. Sounds too familiar and unoriginal? It could be ostensibly conventional at first glance, and honestly without the sweet-coating of romance, it’s actually a cliché. But watching the film is like having a lyrical dream, as a man who doesn’t want to meet a beautiful young girl like Celine on a train by chance (or fate actually?) and successfully invite her to embark a half-day city trip in Vienna, especially when the girl is played by Julie Delpy? Yes yes I know I’m no Ethan Hawke and no American, but why shouldn’t I project myself onto the role of Hawks as the American traveler Jesse? Film is a fantasy, a way of escapism, it’s my anesthesia. And Before Sunrise fulfills them all.

Every journey has its beginning, middle and end. If there’s no arguing German couple on train, would Celine change her seat and meet Jesse in the first place? I believe it’s love at first sight at that moment, or at least an affection. They talk like they are long-time best friends, they talk about everything including life and death without reluctance, they deal with their past and possible future and extended into philosophical stuff. The conversation is sometimes down to earth, sometimes intellectual. Lee Daniel’s camera captures their conversation sporadically in one long take as observing life unfolds spontaneously. It’s like improvisation, just as life always is, but from what I heard, it’s an outcome of a exquisitely calibrated collaboration between Richard Linklater, Kim Krizan the scriptwriter, and the two leads. Hawke and Delpy play the characters in such a nature tone like they have been living as Jesse and Celine ever since birth. Linklater first feature film Slacker (1991) follows various characters and scenes but never staying with one for too long, conversations emerge out of nowhere and happen by chance. It’s close to a documentary rather than a narrative drama, and Before Sunrise takes the essence of it and plotted with a storyline.

Where are you? Are you on the train en route to Vienna? I have never been to Vienna, understandably after watching the film, I have a strong urge to visit the places Jesse and Celine went, meet the people they encountered, no matter they are fortune-teller, street dancer or melancholic poet waiting to write a poem with one word you pick. The film is far from a travelogue, unlike The Third Man (1949) in which the city itself becomes an indispensable character, Vienna in Before Sunrise is faded into the background, unobtrusive but always palpable. The sorrow evoked in the Cemetery of the Nameless in Simmering is juxtaposed with the romantic aura up in the Wiener Riesenrad, the Ferris wheel where Jesse and Celine share their first kiss. As time passes, Jesse and Celine have to face the fact that their chance to meet again is highly unlikely. The 12-hour time they spend together would be their first and probably their last.

Time is relative. The 12-hour time is probably weighing heavier than their any former years of experience. As the film is close to the end, so does their time together. There is a lingering affection mutually and surely we expect a happy ending. The film instead ends with a big question mark, will they meet again as they promise each other six months later at the same train station? I think we all know the answer now, as the story of Jesse and Celine would be expanded into two more sequels, each nine years apart both in onscreen and offscreen. It’s a fictional documentary of love versus time (and space secondarily). But a tiny part of me wish the story indeed ends in Before Sunrise, so that my imagination could complete their future like in having a dream by myself. And I intend to have a sweet dream.

Film Rating: 4.5/5
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3 thoughts on “#857 Before Sunrise (1995)

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