The first installment in Richard Linklater’s acclaimed “Before” trilogy, Before Sunrise is one of the most uniquely structured films in recent memory. Entirely dialogue based, the film discusses important social issues with great depth while examining the nature of a newly formed romantic relationship. Although Before Sunrise is masterfully written, acted and shot, there is no real plot; nothing really happens. Both Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy turn in exceptional performances that demand close attention, and yet all their characters do throughout the film is walk around Vienna and talk about life. Linklater’s aim here is not to make greatest film ever made, as one might assume is the aim of many directors embarking upon a new project. It is meant to be a simple film, a small film with a small scope. It is short and it is brilliant in its own right.
The only two real characters in the film, Jesse (Hawke) and Celine (Delpy) are total strangers that meet on a train and subsequently fall in love. The film is somewhat inspiring as a result. This detail of the film speaks to the spontaneity of love, the romance of romance, so to speak. Once the two get to talking, the film takes off. Their discussion covers the innate differences between men and women and the good and bad aspects of American and French society and everything in between. The dialogue is serious and provocative at times and humorous at others, and Hawke and Delpy’s performances are smooth and keep it realistic, despite the remarkable intelligence and obvious care put into the writing. A fantastic, stand-out moment comes in Jesse and Celine’s pretend phone calls to their friends back home, in which they reveal their thoughts about and feelings toward each other. Another comes when Jesse asks Celine to get off the train with him. This moment almost becomes a cheesy, cliche rom-com-esque scene, but Jesse’s actually quite intelligent reasoning for why Celine should oblige him makes it truly enjoyable to watch.
However, the film is at its best when Jesse and Celine are awkwardly staring at each other, each looking away when the other catches him or her gazing. These scenes, despite all the brilliant dialogue, are the most impactful because they are the most true to actual human behavior. It is genius on the part of Linklater to include these scenes – the hardest part of screenwriting is often knowing when to leave blank space. Credit is also heavily owed to both Hawke as well as Delpy, as their performances are so natural and convincing and are a massive part of this movie’s success.
The work done by Lee Daniel, frequent Linklater collaborator – who also shot the phenomenal Boyhood – is also impressive. As cinematographer, Daniel captures some of Vienna’s most beautiful architectural displacements, as well as epic landscapes beyond the glass of the windows of a moving train. The music, done by Fred Frith, is jovial and happy and supplements the major theme of love throughout the film. Finally, the costumes designs, done by Florentina Welley, definitely help to establish who the characters are. One can tell immediately that Jesse is struggling along financially and is probably a bit spontaneous, while Celine is more upper class and well read, just from what they wear.
An interesting aspect of the film is that there is not really any conflict that must be resolved. Nearly one-hundred percent of the film is dedicated to Jesse and Celine’s conversations. While there is the occasional disparity in opinion between the two, they do not face a major obstacle other than the struggle of living, existing. At the end of the film, they do face the issue of how to go about the future of their relationship, but this isn’t much of a major conflict. In the end, the film is simply a brilliant social commentary with great acting, visually appealing imagery and a quick run-time.
Before Sunrise is a fantastic indie flick that should be on everyone’s IMDb Watchlist. It is an important film for everyone because it is provocative; it gets you thinking. While it comments on the state of man and social issues, it also examines love and human relationships. The film does a wonderful job of being real while simultaneously dreamlike. With this film, Linklater brings us a fun and simple masterpiece.