Before Sunrise (1995): “Isn’t everything we do in life a way to be loved a little more?”

Before_Sunrise_posterThe first of director Richard Linklater’s famed trilogy, Before Sunrise (1995) is a quirky yet bittersweet romantic tale about two young lovers who meet on a train from Budapest to Vienna. After being stuck next to an awkwardly argumentative couple on the train, Céline (Julie Delpy) moves seats and by chance sits near handsome Jesse (Ethan Hawke). They strike up a conversation and go to have a meal in the dining cart, where they bond with one another. Jesse convinces Céline to explore Vienna with him for just one night, until he has to catch a flight home to the US. She agrees, and they go out to visit the sights of Budapest together and get to know each other better, until the sun rises.

The beauty of this film is in the simplicity of its story. Before Sunrise is all about Jesse and Céline, and the development of their relationship as they know that time is ticking away and they inevitably have to leave one another for separate destinations. Minor characters may be featured in the story, but the film always returns to Jesse and Céline. I entered this film’s world thinking it would probably be a typical romantic story about a nice young guy meeting a beautiful French girl on the train, and that it would devolve into a sappy and unrealistic love story. I was totally wrong. The romance in this film is delivered in such an authentic and congruent way that I actually felt slightly heartbroken by the end, as if I was anticipating the long distance love the two might experience and the complications involved with that (especially in 1995, pre-Facebook and other more convenient ways of communicating across the globe).

Lots of people might think this is a film with an unrealistic premise – boy meets girl on train, convinces her to do something impulsive, and they end up becoming very affectionate for one another. But it’s unexpectedly believable, due in part to Ethan Hawke’s and Julie Delpy’s performances, and through an honest and complex script that shows more than it tells, despite the many conversations we hear between the two characters. I’ve never been much of an Ethan Hawke fan, but I think this film changed my perception of him. Whilst he does look like your usual pretty boy lead character, his performance is layered and complex. The combination of the cynical outer shell of his character with the need to be loved that he covers up is pretty sweet, and is countered by Céline’s romantic and idealistic exterior and internal doubts about the lasting capabilities of relationships that becomes apparent as their relationship develops. Julie Delpy is wonderful in this film. I loved her in Three Colours: White (1994), and I loved her just as much in this. Céline is portrayed as a balance to Jesse, which is greatly enhanced by the fact that the actors have such a strong chemistry with one another.

before_sunrise__1995_-fanart

This central relationship is set within the greater context of the beautiful city of Vienna, which the couple explores. The direction and cinematography is stunning, but then again, you don’t have to do much to make this grand and historic city look amazing. It seems that everywhere the couple goes, they see or do or are surrounded by something unique and interesting. However, there was something about the way that the couple was situated within each scene that made my eyes go straight to them rather than their surrounding environment. That’s a testament to the acting capabilities of Hawke and Delpy and their chemistry together, that my eye would go directly to them rather than to the romantic European city in which they’re wandering.

I wonder if people with a less focused attention span for cinema would be able to tolerate this film, though. The approach to the story is so stripped back and character-driven, and a lot of the ‘drama’ occurs as a result of lengthy conversations between the two lovers. I know I can tolerate it, but some people might find it tedious, particularly if they’re used to more constructed/melodramatic romantic films, or silly rom coms. And I wonder whether people would find this story or relationship romantic at all if those are the films they’re used to seeing.

The next film after this one is Before Sunset (2004), set nine years after this film, and then the Oscar-nominated Before Midnight (2013), set after a further nine years. I am so excited to see the rest of the trilogy and to see the development of Jesse and Céline’s relationship. After this film I just want to see this couple back together again. This is probably one of the purest romantic films I’ve seen, and I’m not talking about purity in a moralistic sense. Before Sunrise takes the concept of a developing and time-limited romance and boils it down to its most simplistic elements, which makes it paradoxically much more powerful. Before Sunrise is such a beautiful film, and I absolutely loved it.

4.5/5
Watch the trailer here.

Watch this film at Amazon!

21 comments

  1. It’s time I sat down and watched this trilogy, I’ve heard so much about it. I didn’t want to watch Before Midnight because I missed the first two. I like Ethan Hawke and Venice, gosh, could there be a better place to film a movie? I’m in. Great review 🙂

    1. Thanks Cindy! 🙂 I’m glad I finally sat down and started watching this trilogy! I haven’t seen the next two yet but I really can’t stop thinking about this film, so I will be seeing them sooner rather than later. I think I have lingering symptoms of heartbreak!

  2. So glad you like it. It really is so magical and effortless. The performances are wonderful, and the dialogue just flows. Great review Anna.

    1. Thanks Alex! 🙂 I loved it. Effortless is definitely the key word for this film, both in terms of the dialogue and the performances. Can’t wait to see the next two!

  3. Love this movie so very much. Both sequels are amazing, but this gives me an even larger sense of nostalgia every time I watch it. Good review.

    1. Thanks! 🙂 I get the feeling that by the end I’ll definitely feel nostalgic for this first one!

  4. One of the best chapters of one of the best trilogies of all time. Very good review, Anna. Romance isn’t one of my preferred genres but this one was so good n exceptional n wonderful n loveable n just perfect.

    1. Thank you! 🙂 Totally agree with those adjectives. What a wonderful film.

  5. You’ve got me convinced to take the trilogy as my July blind spot post! This sounds so great, the honesty sounds so refreshing and everything about this film is just… calling me. 😀 Can’t wait for your next reviews from this trilogy.

    1. Cool! 😀 I’m looking forward to reading what you think about it! The honesty is really lovely. It’s unlike any other romance-centric film I’ve seen. I’m watching the second one tonight!

  6. The trilogy has a wonderful evolution to it for the characrers and their relationships. They are vastly different in tone and content but the trilogy feels so whole that it would be ingenuine to separate them into three different films – all are equally rewarding. Without a doubt my favourite film franchise that’s endlessly satisfying.

    1. Can’t wait to see the next two and report back on them! So far the feeling I’m getting is that it’s really similar to the Three Colours trilogy, where each film has its own feeling, theme, and tone, and could technically stand alone, yet they work so well when integrated together that you wouldn’t really want to split them up anyway.

  7. I recently watched this, and was amazed at the ease of the characters and the setting. Everything flowed so naturally, and it was quite fun to see a romantic drama that showed two young adults falling in love and having realistic idealistic conversations. Very nice review!

    1. Thank you Katy! 🙂 You’re right, everything just flowed so well, from their initial getting-to-know-you phase to the end where they were much closer with one another. I loved hearing them muse on the different facets of life that they thought were important as well. Such a sweet film.

  8. Nice review! I have a bit more of a love/hate relationship with these two characters, but overall have enjoyed each film as a result of the cinematography and the acting in particular. It’s a long time since I watched this one but I just watched Before Midnight a couple of weeks ago…I think if you enjoyed Before Sunrise you’ll really like the other two as well.

    1. Thanks Stu! I can see where the love/hate might come from, they’re definitely flawed characters in their own ways! I loved this so much so I’m thinking I’ll also love the next two. But either way there will definitely be more beautiful cinematography for me to enjoy.

  9. […] and Céline (Julie Delpy) again – nine years after their initial romantic encounter in Before Sunrise (1995). Jesse is now a published author, and has been travelling around Europe on a whirlwind book […]

  10. Fantastic review Anna, I have read so much great stuff about this trilogy. I can’t wait to dive in and see for myself. I think I’ll very much enjoy it too

    1. Thanks Tom! You definitely have to watch this trilogy, they’ll totally change your perception of romance-centric films. So amazing.

  11. […] afternoon together in Before Sunset (2004), and eighteen years after their very first meeting in Before Sunrise (1995). Before Midnight is set during one day on the stunningly beautiful Greek Peloponnese […]

  12. […] a giant fan of Linklater’s Before trilogy, I had really high hopes for this one. From the outset, this film promises a lot. […]

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