Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise” is an aimless 1995 movie about two strangers, American Ethan Hawke and French woman Julie Delpy (“Killing Zoe”), who meets by accident on a train and decides to spend one day together. Basically a Gen-X movie with a passport, “Sunrise” could care less about plot, unless you believe endless talking and walking around the city of Vienna doing not much of anything is plot. Despite that, “Before Sunrise” boasts engaging and endearing performances from its two stars Hawke and Delpy, and the dialogue by Linklater and co-writer Kim Krizan is mostly inspired.
I will admit to not having seen all of Linklater’s work, but from what I can tell “Sunrise” and the animated “Waking Life” is what he’s all about. That is, characters going around communicating on various subjects until the movie decides to end. I did not particularly care for “Waking Life”, which was really nothing more than a group of people regurgitating what they had read or heard someone else say. (If I wanted to “hear” this, I would read the actual books, or listen to the originator of the quotes.) “Sunrise” fares better, mostly because the dialogue is more down to Earth and very personal and immediate.
It’s probably thanks to the fact that Linklater is American that the American character played by Ethan Hawke (“Training Day”) isn’t entirely bracing and rude, as Europe has apparently and collectively decided that we are. (Re: The Ugly American stereotype.) Of course, that isn’t to say the other characters don’t dump on poor Ethan, who is accused of being dumb because he can’t speak French, although he did take 4 years of lessons.
I have never read the screenplay or heard Linklater talk about his movie, but I wouldn’t be surprise to learn that much of the film’s verbal sparring were made up on the spot, with a lot of adlibbing by stars Hawke and Delpy. It’s impossible that Linklater and Krizan could write so much of the dialogue, especially since the whole movie is one big endless conversation. It’s to the two actors’ credit that even when the conversation starts to get a little silly that they still manage to keep us engage.
As characters, Hawke’s Jesse is more Everyman than Delpy’s Celine, who was raised by rich and loving parents, although she’s decided to rebel against her privileged upbringing. (Very Trustfund Baby of her.) Jesse, on the other hand, was raised by parents who never wanted him in the first place, and thus has learned to live life as one big party he was never invited to. This has made him hardened and pessimistic, whereas Celine is optimistic and empathetic.
If two attractive people talking about the inequalities of life, the muddled web of relationships, and the fleeting world of love intrigue you, then “Before Sunrise” is a perfect movie. It’s very romantic, and Hawke and Delpy sells their respective roles with aplomb. Linklater’s camera is ever-present, but never intruding. As an example of the film’s fantastical vibe, consider this scene: told by Delpy that she wants to drink the night away, a broke Hawke convinces a bar owner to give him a bottle of wine and he will mail him the money at a later date.
The above scenario would never take place in real life. Then again, such a perfect day like the one shared by Jesse and Celine would also never take place in real life. That makes “Before Sunrise” a true fantasy — it’s the kind we all wish we could experience just once in our life.
Richard Linklater (director) / Richard Linklater, Kim Krizan (screenplay)
CAST: Ethan Hawke …. Jesse
Julie Delpy …. Celine