Before Sunrise: Revisiting Richard Linklater’s Sublime Romance

If you’re currently of the mindset that romance or love or adoration is merely a myth, and that all people are miserable and incompatible with each other, then let me make this quite clear – Before Sunrise will ruin you. Your entire view on relationships will make a swift about-turn.

Ninety minutes of watching two people who are so clearly perfect for each other, just listening to them talk, watching smiles spread across their faces, will make you feel so utterly inadequate about any form of ‘love’ you think you’ve known. But it’ll also fill you with hope that you might find someone like Jesse or Celine.

Before Sunrise is the ultimate love story. It’s not soppy, at all. It is heartfelt and genuine and full of promise and joy.

Richard Linklater’s 1995 tale set in Vienna follows American tourist Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and French student Celine (Julie Delpy) from the moment they meet on a cross-continent train to the moment they have to depart, following them around the Austrian capital over the course of one night.

It’s a story driven purely by the two leads; we never see them apart. Characters enter the fray for very brief moments, but they’re on the periphery, nameless; because Jesse and Celine sure as hell aren’t going to remember two guys putting on a play about a cow, so why the hell should we?

There are moments, more often than not, where it’s impossible to tell if there’s a script involved. Conversations feel so organic that, with Linklater’s camera floating around the majestic Vienna cityscape, you question whether Before Sunrise is in fact a fly-on-the-wall account of two people meeting for the first time.

The film’s aided by the fact that Jesse and Celine are both incredibly likeable; smart but not pretentious, well-rounded yet flawed. And they play off each other with such gusto that’s it bewitching at times. There’s push and pull to their relationship from the outset, with differing opinions about human interaction and global society.

But it’s the body language that propels Before Sunrise well above the vast majority of stories focused on meet-cutes.

Every touch, every half-glance, every hint of a smile; it all feels so real to the point where you’ll yearn to find yourself in those situations.

And Linklater’s never afraid to linger, keeping the eye trained on the couple. None more so than in a short scene where Jesse and Celine are in a listening booth at an old school record store, with just the two of them in frame there are so many half-glances without catching one another’s eye, that it’s just so sweet, so tender and so poised.

By the time the two have to part, this true tale of romance has flown by, just as it would have for Jesse and Celine. And just as they surely are, you’ll be riding a wave of hope, thinking that maybe the world isn’t such a terrible place after all.

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