Faith Can Move Mountains... But Dynamite Works Better

Saturday, November 21, 2015

How Long Can Two People Talk?

A different kind of film than the one I reviewed in my last post, and I might earn the wrath of Woody Allen and Nicholas Sparks for this one. Well, if they clone themselves five hundred times and I tie an arm around my back, it might be a fair fight.

“Think of this as time travel, from then, to now, to find out what you’re missing out on. See, what this really could be is a gigantic favor to both you and your future husband to find out you’re not missing out on anything. I’m just as big a loser as he is, totally unmotivated, totally boring, and, uh, you made the right choice, and you’re really happy.” ~ Jesse

“If there’s any kind of magic in this world, it must be in the attempt of understanding someone, sharing something. I know, it’s almost impossible to succeed, but... who cares, really? The answer must be in the attempt.” ~ Celine

"You know what the worst thing about somebody breaking up with you? It's when you remember how little you thought about the people you broke up with and you realize that's how little they're thinking of you. You know, you'd like to think you're both in all this pain, but they're just like, hey, I'm glad you're gone." ~ Jesse

"You know, I have this awful paranoid thought that feminism was mostly invented by men so they could like,  fool around a little more. You know, women, free your minds, free your bodies, sleep with me. We're all happy and free as long as I can fuck as much as I want." ~ Celine

“I feel like this is, uh, some dream world we’re in, y’know?” ~ Jesse 
“Yeah, it’s so weird. It’s like our time together is just ours. It’s our own creation. It must be like I’m in your dream, or you’re in mine, or something.” ~ Celine

In 1995, director Richard Linklater, who had earlier directed the films Slacker and Dazed And Confused, brought a new film to the big screen, a romantic drama set over a single night called Before Sunrise. It features a young couple meeting and spending a single night wandering through Vienna, getting to know each other, and letting the audience get to know them by extension. A story with minimalist plot, the tale is instead a character study with tremendously likable lead characters. It would lead later to two sequels with the characters in other cities, carrying on conversations at later points in their lives.

We meet the pair, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) on a train heading west through Austria. They strike up a conversation, and there’s a spark between them. Jesse’s getting off in Vienna for a flight back home to America the next day. Celine is on her way home to Paris. When they reach Vienna, Jesse makes a proposal- he wants to keep talking with her, asking her to join him in wandering Vienna for the night. She’s charmed by him, and agrees, and the pair step off the train. They take in the sights of Vienna, a city Celine has been in before, and keep up their conversation, learning more about each other, bantering and sparring, and sharing their dreams.

Linklater co-wrote the script with Kim Krizan, inspired by an encounter with a woman years earlier in which Linklater spent hours conversing long into the night. The script takes these two characters out of their usual element, both in a foreign country with the benefit of anonymity, and lets the two get to know each other through the course of the story. Apparently it was a quick script to write between the two at eleven days, but the characters are fully realized, given depth in their world views and personalities, and feel authentic. The tale is one of self discovery all while these characters get to know each other. They’re smart in different ways, have strong opinions, and engage each other with ideas in a way that’s compelling. I’m struck each time I see this film by how strong a difference there is to Woody Allen films, which are so often talkfests, but irritating (Woody Allen’s chronic whining neurotic personality wears out its welcome inside of a minute for me). These characters are appealing and thoughtful, and even when they have their own self-doubts, it never comes across as whining. Instead they come across as natural.

While the two leads are the only major characters (aside from transitory characters the pair encounter during the night), it can be said that Vienna itself is a character in the film, as the pair roam, visit places, and engage in the culture and night life of the city. Linklater filmed on location, taking full advantage of the beauty of the city, so the film is something of a travelogue as well. As the movie unfolds, we see a lot of Vienna in different ways. The directorial style still emphasizes the strong characterization, focusing on Celine and Jesse throughout. Aside from taking in Vienna’s beauty, Linklater’s style stays centered on his leads. That style reflects itself in how these characters relate early on- moments of shyness as they’re getting to know each other, most particularly in the glances they give each other in a listening booth.

Linklater apparently saw many actors before he chose his lead pair, and the way they did a reading of the script convinced him they were perfect for the roles. Julie Delpy has done most of her work in France, and she’s just right as Celine. The character is intelligent, warm, creative, matter of fact; she has strong opinions, is wise in her ways, and worries that she might come across as too obsessive- her remarks about worrying that an ex-boyfriend will end up meeting a bad end and she’d be the prime suspect reflect that in a funny way. Celine’s world view on many things is explored- feminism, rebellion, family, belief, and the nature of existence. She’s a fully formed woman, complete unto herself, which makes her all the more appealing.  

Ethan Hawke turned out to be ideal as Jesse, who’s romantic at heart and yet hides that under a veil of cynicism. There’s a sense of whimsy about him at times, a wry sense of humour, and self deprecation that’s refreshing. As cynical as he might initially come across as, there’s a sense of hope and optimism in the character. It takes awhile before these characters actually bring up the topic of their romantic situations and why they’re single, and I like Jesse’s honesty about his recent break-up; his remarks about how little one thinks of the person they’ve broken up with in the past ring true. His honesty about feeling like he’s coming across as if he has no idea what he’s talking about is also refreshing- all while Celine counters that in just the right way. There’s a dreamer in Jesse, a quality that we see strongly in Celine as well, and it makes them so very appealing to the audience.

Before Sunrise, like Before Sunset and Before Midnight after it, is an exploration of human nature between two characters, with time as a featured player. It’s a tremendously appealing romance as these two get to know each other. While Celine and Jesse are falling in love, the audience is all the while falling for both of them; we feel such a strong connection to these two, which makes the movie all the more satisfying. This movie is a critical and audience favourite, with characters who have such richly layered, grounded, authentic personalities. I love the spirit and the intelligence of the film, which is fresh no matter how many times one sees it. Considering how these days romantic movies tend to consist of endless tedious Nicholas Sparks adaptations (which, by the way, constitute cruel and unusual punishment- do your worst, Nicholas Sparks fans), this film is the right kind of romantic movie.


  1. Another movie I haven't seen--but a great review anyway. As always.

    Cloning Woody Allen...what a scary thought!

  2. Never even heard of it. I'll have to look for it. Even though the idea of two people talking through a whole movie sounds incredibly boring, you make it sound interesting!

  3. Never heard of this one. Definitely a risky format for a movie.

  4. This sounds awesome. Never seen or heard of it.

  5. @Norma: Woody Allen is one of those fingernails on a blackboard kind of people to me.

    @Cheryl: you should definitely check it out.

    @Kelly: and yet it works beautifully. Critics and audiences loved it.

    @Shelly: Now you know about it!

  6. I did see this movie. Back a few years. Gag! Talk, talk, talk. Boring, boring, boring. Oops. Maybe I'm thinking of "Before Sunset." Was that set in Paris?

  7. Love this. I will be watching it. I'm not a fan of zero plot, but this characterization of two people falling for each other sounds like a perfect Saturday night movie, pizza, and ice cream!!

    Thanks for sharing. :)


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