Every now and then you watch a film that grabs you by the collar, shakes you around and leaves you to never be the same ever again.
To me, Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, School of Rock, Waking Life)’s 1995 film Before Sunrise is one of those films. In a world of cheesy cliches and predictable romance films, Before Sunrise maintains a sense of freshness and honesty that likely will never be reproduced on screen. It’s a thinking person’s romance. It follows Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), two twenty-somethings that meet on a train to Paris – who on a spontaneous whim, decide to spend the day (and night) in Vienna together before Jesse has to take a plane back home to the US.
The film refuses to give you a decisive plot, instead taking the audience along with the characters, as they explore Vienna and talk about life, love, expectations and and the many mysteries of the human condition. It may seem bland on paper, but the dialogue and performances seem so real that it truly feels as you are watching two people find each other and fall in love. No cheesy grand gestures of romance. Just connecting through conversation. I can’t talk about these characters as if they once existed. I can only talk as if they really do exist, perhaps in a parallel universe. They feel complete, like real, flawed people. Linklater manages to capture what it’s like to be a young twenty-something: full of hopes, dreams and ideas. It’s not often you get a film that makes you question your existence every five minutes.
It’s also beautifully directed and filmed. In a film full of conversation, the moments of silence have a flooring effect. After I watched it for the first time, all I wanted to do was to catch a train to Vienna and fall for a French girl.
And guess what. It’s only the first in a set of three films. The third film, Before Midnight is coming out this year (I just bought tickets to the advance screening in June – I’ve never been more excited to see a film in my life). The story of Jesse and Celine is a timeless one, and I’m so glad Linklater wanted to keep catching up with his characters nine (Before Sunset) and eighteen years (Before Midnight) later, respectively. If all goes well – and I’m sure it will – The Before series will no doubt claim the position as my favourite film trilogy of all time.
Richard Linklater admits that the film was inspired by a chance encounter he had when he met a woman in a Philadelphia toy shop, and they spent the night walking around the city and talking. That night had a profound effect on him forever:
“It’s just how we influence each other. That’s why we always have to give your best self to everyone, because you never know how you’re going to influence these people in this world. And Ethan [Hawke] was like, well if she never existed, these films wouldn’t have been made and we wouldn’t have known each other. I mean, who knows how we reverraberate through each other’s lives. But she’s an inspiration on this.”
Before Sunrise is my favourite film of all time. It has a profound place in my heart – and it’s leased out forever. It’s a must see.