ichard 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. Another character, when asked whether he speaks English, asks
Hawke to speak Austrian for a change. Har har. I just love condescending
Europeans. They're just so...European?
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
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.