Two people from different parts of the world meet on a train and decide to tour Vienna for one night and witness everything the city has to offer while they bond with one another and fall in love, but as the night ends and the two become closer, will they separate come morning, or will they stay together? I’m officially considering myself a fan of Richard Linklater; this director/writer creates some of the most thought provoking films ever made, it’s hard to believe his films aren’t being released into the mainstream.
His films which are mostly independent fodder are sheer brilliance with philosophical ideas thrown into incredible dialogue and well-developed attractive characters, and “Before Sunrise” is no exception to his rule. I recently found myself stunned with his work including “Tape”, an excellent character study, “Waking Life” a brilliant look into life, dreams, and philosophy, and (one of my favorite films of all time) “Dazed and Confused” a seventies trip into the final night of high school graduates. Linklater has a sheer talent for dialogue in his films that make everything seem so philosophical; he’s a very underrated writer in his field because everything he writes down is like a page off of a philosophy book. He captures an essence of life in every film he creates, whether it be a series of tragic events and how their dictated in “Tape” from philosophy, and the meaning of life in “Waking Life” from capturing the spirit of the seventies and the poignancy of youth and growing up in “Dazed and Confused”, this man can do it and do it well.
He manages to stun me yet again in his simple tale of two outsiders drawn to each other in a foreign country in “Before Sunrise”. For people who saw the recent “Lost in Translation” the plot is pretty much the same and the themes similar, but this came first. This is merely a tale of two people drawn in towards each other under circumstances, and we watch them grow close as they tour a foreign country, this one being the beautiful city of Paris. Their characters Jesse and Celine played by the always enjoyable Ethan Hawke (Training Day, Existenz) and the sexy Julie Delpy (An American Werewolf in Paris, White) are people that are very drawn to one another never realizing that they’re complete polar opposites and Linklater makes that fact clear throughout the film as we watch them debate and talk about little things in life: death, romance, parents, fortune tellers, but each conversation is presented in a series of meetings and encounters with Parisian folk including two actors on a bridge, a fortune teller in a cafe, and a poet on the sidewalk who creates a poem for the two for money.
Their dichotomous relationship is a clashing of paradoxes that the audience witness with fond sensibility; it’s a resonant theme throughout the entire film. He’s the blunt young American, she’s the subtle Parisian with an eye for beauty, he’s the young soul with a sheer and utter cynicism and skepticism to the world while she is the old soul with the dreamy eyed optimism to the world. They think differently and bear different approaches toward life but their physical attraction is so there, you wait for them to eventually begin kissing, but with Linklater being the brilliant mad scientist, handle their romance with ease and a subtle realism that doesn’t make you furrow a brow asking if that would really happen. Their romance is slow and gradual but not so slow you lose patience; you want to see these people end up with each other and end up happy and wait to see so through the incredible but simple conversations the two have in a church, a cafe, along the waters of Vienna, and (my favorite) the train in which they’re introduced to each through a series of events involving another couple. He doesn’t come off like he’s trying to stun the audience, nor does he seem like he’s trying to mimic Tarantino’s talent, but he makes it his own.
The timing for the dialogue is just right to make it flow naturally and nothing in his films look or seem tacked on like he had to speak of it. For those who are fans of Quentin Tarantino’s quick and witty dialogue, take a look at Linklater’s films and he bears a shocking resemblance with much to say. If that isn’t enough he dazzles with his direction and his sheer talent for using direction to tell the story he wants to tell. His artistic view towards directing is so simple but so grand. He makes the entire city of Vienna, a beautiful place seem so small and cozy centering on two people alone, and it’s quite amusing to see once scene in which we watch different connecting along a cafe and then Celine and Jesse. Of course it also helps that the two performances in the film are beautiful and sheer magnetic from the principal cast of Ethan Hawke who brings a great every man presence to the screen as he always does, and then Delpy who supplies the grace, beauty, and magnetism required to hold up against Hawke.
The audience is drawn to these two people as are they to each other, and it’s not hard to understand why; Delpy is hard to resist and Hawke is great. The final touch: the climax in which they make a vow in the end that they’ll meet within months at the very same spot and re-live the very same night. Will they go through with it and keep their promise? Or will they look back with fondness as a simple fling? One thing for sure is, Linklater proves his brilliance by going off route and leaving his character’s romantic fate in the imagination of the viewers never taking the safe route and giving us a happy ending, because it’s real life, and Linklater’s material depends on realism, he’s so brilliant at it. Some may not appreciate the gradual romance and long drawn out dialogue, some audiences will prefer that the point be made already without the build-up, and for those looking for that check out “Maid in Manhattan” or “Two Weeks Notice”. This has a bright and breezy setting which somehow defeats the concept and experience. It’s ultimately an unsatisfying experience as well with an ending that leaves the door open for a sequel and doesn’t truly resolve itself. Linklater continues to astonish me with a thought-provoking, likable, entertaining, beautiful, and well-acted piece of romance that tells a great story while making us think accompanied with excellent performances from Delpy and Hawke.