Before Sunrise (1995) – Before Sunset (2004)

16 Jan

before sunrise sunset

Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

The films in the romance genre are a mixed bag. Once in a while you get a good/great one, but for the most part, they’re made up of the most annoying clichés and generically ineffective dialogue. Highlighting fresh young talents doesn’t do the job on its own. A good script and genuine chemistry among the romantic leads helps make a romance work. This is where “Before Sunrise” comes in.

This is unlike most romances, in that it takes place in just a single day. As a sigh of relief, the story is very simple—here’s a man and woman, they meet, they enjoy each other’s company, and so they spend the night together before one of them has to leave. That is such a relief because it keeps itself contained to these limitations and makes the most of them. This short-lived romance just develops through this long night with no standard occurrences you see in most movies in the genre.

I shouldn’t even use the words “romance” and “couple,” since the alleged two people are only together for 24 hours (actually 14, I think). It’s just these two people meet, they engage in a friendly conversation, they decide they want to spend more time together before they separate, they have a most pleasant night together, and when they leave, they realize they weren’t ready for this. And that’s it. No melodrama. No misunderstandings. No bullies. There’s hardly even an agenda. We just enjoy the company of twenty-somethings Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) as they enjoy each other’s company.

They meet on a train in Austria. Celine is a French woman returning to a university in Paris; Jesse is an American headed to Vienna for a flight back to the United States. Celine sits next to Jesse. They go to the lounge car and make conversation. It’s a real talk too that attracts them to each other, wanting them to know more about each other. If only they could continue…When they reach Vienna, Jesse comes up with a crazy idea for Celine to get off the train with him so they can be together until he catches his plane. Celine agrees.

Jesse and Celine wander the streets through the night; still talking, learning more about each other, and their relationship gets stronger as it continues. But they do their best to keep from expressing their perfect feelings for each other and just try to keep a “perfect night.” This way, they don’t get hurt. Then comes two important questions—should they sleep together that night, and will they see ever each other again after they separate? They do love each other. Should they admit that?

“Before Sunrise” relies on two important things that make it work, and they’re both great—great dialogue and great acting. The screenplay is full of sharp dialogue (this is mainly an all-talk film) and the conversations that these two people share are worth listening to because they’re smart, amusing, and actually relatable. They don’t talk about anything spectacular; they talk about love, former lovers, school, parents, truth, music, even death and reincarnation. It all seems so natural, as does the acting by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, who share an excellent rapport with each other. Their unquestionable chemistry onscreen seems absolutely genuine.

Aside from the two leads, however, Richard Linklater, director and co-writer (with Kim Krizan), has to take most of the credit for the treasure that is “Before Sunrise.” It’s pure movie magic all the way through. It’s sweet, it’s convincing, and always sincere.

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Sequels are always successful when they actually continue the story. “Before Sunset” is one of those sequels. Nine years since its predecessor, “Before Sunrise,” “Before Sunset” continues with the growing relationship of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), who are or aren’t meant to be together.

In “Before Sunrise,” the likable American man Jesse met the attractive, appealing French woman Celine on a train to Vienna, and talked her into getting off the train with him so they can spend the night together before he left for home. It was a perfect night that ended with their departing of each other. They arranged for them to meet in one year, but now in “Before Sunset,” nine years have passed and their rendezvous hasn’t occurred…until now.

Jesse is in Paris representing his novel, “This Time,” which is a fictionalized retelling of his and Celine’s night together. He is surprised to see Celine at the book signing. They encounter again and their feelings from before have come back.

Jesse has about an hour before his flight for America takes off and he and Celine decide to spend it together. And here, “Before Sunset” doesn’t cheat. It takes place in real time. It doesn’t transition to a different scene and a different conversation. We’re always in the company of these two as they go from place to place, and as they have conversation after conversation.

They share the same kind of whimsical dialogue shown in the original story. But this time around, they also share conversations that are darker. The question of love comes back into place, the way their lives have turned around since their night together has sad surprises, and the question of happiness is complicated for them. And then you get that pivotal thought if these two are meant to be together. Has fate brought them back for a second chance? They know they love each other, but can they act on these feelings?

“Before Sunset” is a remarkable technical and acting achievement, as director Richard Linklater has long shots (about five or six minutes long) as Hawke and Delpy continue to engage in discussion. This cannot be easy, but luckily, the actors are excellent here. They were great in the original film; they’re even better here. They know their characters inside and out, and at no moment are we seeing actors. We see Jesse and Celine together again. And it also helps that Hawke and Delpy also co-wrote the screenplay with Linklater and Kim Krizan.

The film has a great ending that leaves things open for interpretation until another sequel, which I seriously hope comes around because I want to see more of these two people interact with each other. And who knows? Maybe things will be better for them. Together. I really hope so. These two movies—“Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset”—are two of the best romance films I have ever seen and there’s enough intelligence for a third entry.

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