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.