The connected strangers stroll the night away on the streets of the unfamiliar city in a marvelous conversational courtship that is free of competition and full of trust.
"Before Sunrise" is almost terrific. Filmed with deftness and delicacy, it catches the essence of young love. Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), each alone and unencumbered, meet on a train as it rolls toward Vienna. In a burst of spontaneity, they decide to spend the night together. Jesse will take the morning plane to America; Celine will return to Paris. Between now and then, they have one night to fall in love.
The connected strangers stroll the night away on the streets of the unfamiliar city in a marvelous conversational courtship that is free of competition and full of trust. The sweetness of this movie springs from their quiet resolve to know each other. We are listening in on the wondrous process of discovery, and we believe them.
Jesse's reaction to a riverside poet and an itinerant fortune teller is purely American: There can't really be anything to this; if I can't see it, it can't be real. In lovely contrast, Celine is open entirely to the romance and fantasy of the moment. She is full of quiet charm and mystery, asking questions without needing answers.
They notice what they happen to see--the Ferris wheel, two actors on a bridge, a small cemetery--but they don't seek out the sights. Vienna is merely a backdrop for their wandering. They are unhurried. A whole night, after all, is long enough for a good conversation.
Director Richard Linklater had a mite of courage to think a two-hour conversational ramble can sustain a movie. He was right. By dawn, the gentle American with the slouchy gait and the quietly saucy Parisian know what they need to know.
Neatly avoiding the sentimentality trap, Linklater never lets his romance turn to sugar. He does not promise love ever after. But he does convince us that 24 hours of love in a country far from home should be the stuff of universal fantasy.
Julie Delpy, an actress who can be both wise and innocent, strong and kind, is the real charmer in this movie. Her simple sophistication throws Ethan Hawke into bold relief as a very nice American with a flat voice; nevertheless he is appealing and vulnerable in his honesty. Both actors have soaked themselves in their director's mood. Richard Linklater has written and directed the film with a light, winsome touch. So what's missing?
If there is no dark side to this tale, there is a bit of an empty-vessel problem. At 23, innocence and sweetness go a very long way, but not quite far enough to make compelling two people who haven't experienced much of anything. It would be great fun to see this pair meet on a European train a couple of decades from now. But why quibble? The romance of a European train and the freedom to say, "Yes, let's get off and fall in love tonight in Vienna," is irresistible.
Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Word Count: 493
Rating: R 1h41m
Copyright (c) Illusion
Return to Ellis Home Page