Before Sunrise (1995) review

Before Sunrise (1995) review

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"Oh, so you're planning on keeping the beard?"
“Oh, so you’re planning on keeping the beard?”

Twitter Plot Summary: An American man and a French woman meet on a train and, finding they get along, jump off and have a long conversation in Vienna.

A brace of strangers, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, get talking on a train and, realising they have a bond, decide to spend the day together exploring Vienna. It’s not an everyday occurrence for sure, and likely not something that most people would spontaneously do, all things considered. Yet without it we wouldn’t have a story, nor would we have what is perhaps a near perfect film covering the intricacies of relationships and young love. There was a bit of sick in my mouth writing that. Ugh. Let’s move on.

Before Sunrise sets off on a deep character inspection, combining great performances from Hawke and Delpy with a smart script and superb direction from Richard Linklater. The various intricacies of relationships and life are explored in a very focused and targeted way, aided mostly by the natural rhythm to the dialogue. There’s little razzle dazzle to the cinematography or the presentation – it’s all as naturalistic as possible. It’s also pretty much two people talking to each other, with little else in the way of drama or action, for want of a better term, that you might see elsewhere.

What we get in place of the usual movie story beats are deep character studies of both Hawke’s Jesse and Delpy’s Celine, exposing their thoughts and their views of the world through engaging dialogue and the desire from both parties to explore the other’s thoughts. The transient nature of their encounter leads to a much more heartfelt and deep conversation than they and the audience perhaps thought possible

Voyeurism was overrated, but still highly entertaining on a zero budget.
Voyeurism was overrated, but still highly entertaining on a zero budget.

To say that their conversations lack dramatic tension would however be a great disservice to the story, the performances and the production. And to call Before Sunrise anything less than compelling would be a grave error. Through a combination of all of these elements it becomes less a movie and more like a window into a very real conversation, the camera watching their journey across Vienna like an invisible voyeur. Saying it like that feels a little on the seedy side, but that’s the setup, kids.

Their brief encounter takes place over the course of one evening as they traverse the streets and briefly touch the lives of others in a manner that is almost as fleeting as their own interactions. The metaphors keep stacking up – both of them are strangers in a strange land, and strangers to one another, meeting strangers as they walk from place to place. Much like real life, potential plot threads are raised but are not necessarily explored. They wander and meander, consider going to a theatrical performance, encounter various lives in the city but, ultimately, are lost in their very direct and personal conversation.

The journey ends with the promise of a future meeting in 6 months time. No numbers or contact details are exchanged, just a promise to somebody you’ve only just met that you’re going to show up in six months time. If that isn’t a perfect metaphor for the fleeting nature of young love then I don’t know what else to say. Marigold. Okay, so perhaps I do.

Score: 5/5

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