Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Before Sunrise

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 10 August 2004 in Jay's Living Room (see it before the sequel)

I must admit, I approached Before Sunrise with trepidation. I've liked Ethan Hawke in a few things (okay, mostly Gattaca) Same goes for Julie Delpy, who is also what one with a flair for understatement might call "really, really pretty". I've heard great things about the sequel, often followed by "but you've got to see Before Sunrise first". Director Richard Linklater frightened me, though - he's made a movie I loved (School of Rock), one I've liked (The Newton Boys), and two I've outright hated (Tape and Waking Life), and Before Sunrise had the reputation for being as talky and self-absorbed as the ones I despised.

Happily, Before Sunrise is more down-to-earth than those movies. The first scene was instantly familiar - someone riding a bus or a train, reading her book, but next to people who just Will. Not. Shut. UP! She moves to another seat, makes eye contact with the person across the way, and in that instant they're thinking the same thing, and wind up talking. On a whim, she gets off the train with him in Vienna, where he has a morning flight to catch, and they spend the night wandering around the city.

Linklater captures two simple, universal things here. First, it's fun to play tourist. Recent Hollywood seems to have lost sight of that, but there's a simple pleasure in vicariously experiencing a place you've never been and likely won't ever go. So as Jesse (Hawke) and Celine (Delpy) wander around Vienna, we get to tag along, and while their attention will eventually turn more fully to each other, they don't fail to look at the city around them and enjoy it. They go to specific places that might not be first on the list of places considered essential destinations, but which bring forth stories and insights.

And, of course, Jesse and Celine fall in love. It's a peculiar romance, one which demands a powerful attraction to form after just a few minutes, and which they both know will become difficult to maintain within hours. This has probably happened to everyone, though not quite so powerfully as it does to Jesse and Celine. For me, it was freshman year of college and involved the friend of the girlfriend of someone else on the floor. I recall her probably being a senior in high school and very interested in the idea of learning the Native American ancestry of people who didn't realize they had any. Didn't hit me as hard or I just wound up being gutless at the end of the night (most likely a lot of both). This was at Worcester Polytechnic Instute, Daniels Hall, Floor 3 in the fall of 1992, if this sounds vaguely familiar.

The instant appeal of the situations, though, is less importnat than how much we like the two characters. Jesse and Celine talk a lot, and much of it is intellectual or philosophical, but it doesn't get tiresome because the words are not really the point. They're nice words, strung together into nice lines and exchanges, but the important thing is for the couple to just be talking with each other, that as long as they're talking or kissing or holding hands, they're connecting and getting the most out of the time they have together. The great joy is watching them talk, checking out their body language and tone and what their eyes are doing, as opposed to just listening to the words. Linklater balances the mood as carefully as his actors do; that the night must end is part of the background, but doesn't hang over the movie like a cloud, smothering the joy and sweetness of the pair.

I mentioned earlier that School of Rock was the other Linklater film I love; though they may at first seem almost completely dissimilar, they both have, at their core, people with strong passions and ideas coming together; they both feature innocent joy where some could find only cynicism. On the other hand, Waking Life, which actually makes use of these two characters, never rises above the level of an intellectual exercise.

Now that I've finally gotten around to watching this - I bought the DVD about a month ago and just kept putting it off until I saw that Before Sunset would be moving to the second-run theaters this weekend - I wish I'd done it sooner, and I can't wait to see the followup tonight.

1 comment:

theoncominghope said...

There's a neat story in one of Roger Ebert's books about the storyline from the film coming to life. I wrote about it here: