Before Sunrise (1995)

Before Sunrise (1995) Drama, Romance | 1h 41min | 27 January 1995 (USA) 8.1
Director: Richard LinklaterWriters: Richard Linklater, Kim KrizanStars: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Andrea EckertSummary: American tourist Jesse and French student Celine meet by chance on the train from Budapest to Vienna. Sensing that they are developing a connection, Jesse asks Celine to spend the day with him in Vienna, and she agrees. So they pass the time before his scheduled flight the next morning together. How do two perfect strangers connect so intimately over the course of a single day? What is that special thing that bonds two people so strongly? As their bond turns to love, what will happen to them the next morning when Jesse flies away? Written by


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Countries: USA, Austria, SwitzerlandLanguages: English, German, FrenchBudget: $2,500,000 (estimated)


Before Sunrise Reviews

Richard Linklater, the creator of Slackers and Dazed and Confused, has succeeded where many before him have failed -- in fashioning a modern-day romance that is both original and enthralling. Before Sunrise is nothing short of movie magic, and the kind of film that deserves to be remembered one long year from now when 1996's Oscar nominations are handed out.

Even the best romantic comedy/dramas tend to be formula-driven, frequently relying more upon actor chemistry than plot. Surprises are about as foreign to this genre as a pacifist hero is to a shoot-'em-up. Somewhere along the way, a storyteller originated the basic love story structure. Film makers have religiously followed this roadmap, rarely taking more than an occasional minor detour. With Before Sunrise, however, Linklater not only travels an entirely different route, but heads for a new destination.

Frankly, this is not the sort of film one usually expects to find in multiplexes. In fact, if it weren't in English, it might be possible to mistake this for the work of someone like Eric Rohmer. The plentiful and varied dialogue has a richness that few screenplays manage to capture. Most of Before Sunrise is talking. The characters touch on subjects ranging from language and reincarnation to sexuality and cable access shows.

Jesse (Ethan Hawke) meets Celine (Julie Delpy) on a train traveling through Europe. His destination is Vienna, where a flight back to America awaits him the next morning. She's on her way to Paris, where she starts classes at the Sorbonne next week. From their first moment of eye contact, they're drawn to each other. They share a meal in the lounge car, savoring the conversation more than the food, and when they arrive in Vienna, Jesse persuades Celine to disembark with him and keep him company wandering the streets until the time comes for his plane to depart. Thus begins an unforgettable screen romance.

One of the first things to notice about Before Sunrise is how completely natural it all seems. Credit both director Linklater and his two leads. The rapport between Jesse and Celine is so lacking in artifice that at times the viewer feels like a voyeur. We are privy to everything, including the sort of "unimportant" dialogue that most films shy away from. Here, its inclusion is just one of many fresh elements.

Hawke (the American grunge actor who starred opposite Winona Ryder in Reality Bites) and Delpy (the French actress from Europa EuropaWhite, and Killing Zoe) are nothing short of perfect. For this film to work, they have a threefold task: embrace their characters, attract each other, and connect with the audience. Needless to say, all are accomplished flawlessly. From the first stolen glance, there's never any question about their chemistry, and it takes no more time for the audience to be enraptured by Jesse and Celine than it does for them to fall for each other.

Before Sunrise is about life, romance, and love. It magnifies the little things, paying scrupulous attention to the subtleties and mannerisms of body language. There's one scene where Jesse has to restrain himself from brushing away a stray lock of Celine's hair, and another wonderful moment in a music listening booth where the characters nervously avoid eye contact.

This film is an amalgamation of such memorable scenes, yet, as they saying goes, the whole is more than a sum of its parts. Questions about fate and the transitory nature of relationships are raised, then left open for the audience to ponder. There are moments of unforced humor, and times of bittersweet poignancy. Before Sunrise speaks as much to the mind as to the heart, and much of what it says is likely to strike a responsive chord -- a rare and special accomplishment for any motion picture.

They Meet Cute on a train in Austria. They start talking. There is a meeting of the minds (our most erotic organs) and they like each other. They're in their early 20s. He's an American with a Eurail pass, on his way to Vienna to catch a cheap flight home. She's French, a student at the Sorbonne, on her way back to Paris. They go to the buffet car, drink some coffee, keep talking, and he has this crazy idea: Why doesn't she get off the train with him in Vienna, and they can be together until he catches his plane? This sort of scenario has happened, I imagine, millions of times. It has rarely happened in a nicer, sweeter, more gentle way than in Richard Linklater's "Before Sunrise," which I could call a "Love Affair" for Generation X, except that Jesse and Celine stand outside their generation, and especially outside its boring insistence on being bored.

There is no hidden agenda in this movie. There will be no betrayals, melodrama, phony violence, or fancy choreography in sex scenes. It's mostly conversation, as they wander the city of Vienna from mid-afternoon until the following dawn. Nobody hassles them.

"Before Sunrise" is so much like real life - like a documentary with an invisible camera - that I found myself remembering real conversations I had experienced with more or less the same words.

Jesse and Celine are played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.

You may remember him from "Dead Poets Society," "White Fang" or especially "Reality Bites," in which he played a character who is 180 degrees different from this one. She starred in Krzysztof Kieslowski's "White," as the wife who eventually regrets dumping her husband. Here she is ravishingly beautiful and, more important, warm and matter-of-fact, speaking English so well the screenplay has to explain it (she spent some time in the States).

What do they talk about? Nothing spectacular. Parents, death, former boyfriends and girlfriends, music, and the problem with reincarnation when there are more people alive now than in all previous times put together (if there is a finite number of souls, are we living in a period of a 5-to-1 split?). Linklater's dialogue is weirdly amusing, as when Jesse suggests they should think of their time together as a sort of "time travel," and envisions a future in which she is with her boring husband and wonders, "what would some of those guys be like that I knew when I was young," and wishes she could travel back in time to see - and so here she is, back in time, seeing.

A sexual attraction is obviously present between them, and Linklater handles it gently, with patience. There is a wonderful scene in the listening booth of a music store, where each one looks at the other, and then looks away, so as not to be caught. The way they do this - the timing, the slight embarrassment - is delicate and true to life. And I liked their first kiss, on the same ferris wheel used in "The Third Man," so much I didn't mind that they didn't know Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten had been there before them.

The city of Vienna is presented as a series of meetings and not as a travelogue. They meet amateur actors, fortunetellers, street poets, friendly bartenders. They spend some time in a church at midnight. They drink wine in a park. They find a way to exchange personal information by holding imaginary phone calls with imaginary best friends. They talk about making love. There are good arguments for, and against.

This is Linklater's third film, after "Slacker' (1991) and "Dazed and Confused" (1993). He's onto something. He likes the way ordinary time unfolds for people, as they cross paths, start talking, share their thoughts and uncertain philosophies. His first movie, set in Austin, Texas, followed one character until he met a second, then the second until he met a third, and so on, eavesdropping on one life and conversation after another. The second film was a long night at the end of a high school year, as the students regarded their futures. Now there's "Before Sunrise," about two nice kids, literate, sensitive, tentative, intoxicated by the fact that their lives stretch out before them, filled with mystery and hope, and maybe love.

NOTE: The R rating for this film, based on a few four-letter words, is entirely unjustified. It is an ideal film for teenagers.

Love seldom looks very intimate at the movies anymore. The lyrical neurotic knowingness of an Annie Hall or a Choose Me now seems lost in the past. Today’s audiences tend to fall harder for an overheated mega-soap like The Bodyguard — slick, bombastic, its two stars transforming the mating dance into an Olympian ego war. (It’s telling that the film’s theme song, ”I Will Always Love You,” was performed by costar Whitney Houston as a kind of blaring national anthem of love.) This week, though, two talented young writer-directors offer movies that are throwbacks to that more effusive, I’ve-got-a-crush-on-you spirit. In an age of cynical posturing, Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise and David Frankel’s Miami Rhapsody are honest valentines.

It’s evident in Linklater’s existing body of work (Dazed and ConfusedSlacker) that this 33-year-old filmmaker relishes the sound of people talking. With Before Sunrise, he’s devoted an entire movie to it. On the train to Vienna, Jesse (Ethan Hawke), a handsomely scruffy American cruising around on a Eurail pass, bumps into Celine (Julie Delpy), a button-cute French college student on her return trip to Paris. He’s smitten — so is she, though she’s cannier about revealing it — and although he’s scheduled to fly back to the States the next day, he invites her to step off the train and explore Vienna with him. She does, and that’s the entire film: two attractive, earnest, loquacious, prematurely wised-up young people wandering around the Old World city as they flirt, joke, bicker, and confess their way to a startlingly tender romantic epiphany.

Small movies can be as daring as big ones, and Linklater, in his offhand way, is working without a net here. Before Sunrise may be the closest an American has come to the discursive talk gamesmanship of Eric Rohmer. Linklater lets the film unfold in long, unblinking takes, as Jesse and Celine wander from the train to a bus to a record store to a cemetery to the famous Ferris wheel from The Third Man to the bars and back-alley hideaways of after-hours Vienna. There’s no ”story” and only a few peripheral minor characters, nothing to sustain our interest beyond the personalities of the two performers and the gradually deepening thrust of their repartee. Any doubts that Hawke is a true star — or a fresh, accomplished actor — should be dispelled by this movie: With his ardent gaze and bohemian-dreamboat style, his way of pouring forth words in an eager communicative rush, he’s sexy and winning, a computer-generation Matt Dillon. Delpy, with her lovely, guileless smile, matches him quip for quip; her avid performance marks a major break from the Huppert-Deneuve school of frozen-faced Continental chic. If Linklater goes to a bit of an extreme here, it’s in making both characters so intelligent and sincere, so ardent and giving, that they seem a little too good to believe. The movie could have used more of his slacker edge. Still, how many filmmakers can be accused of overloading their characters with humanity? At one point Celine wags her finger between herself and Jesse and observes, ”Sometimes, I think if there’s any kind of God, it must be in this space in between.” At its best, Before Sunrise colors in that space, rendering visible the magical air pocket of intimacy.

The moment that Gwyn (Sarah Jessica Parker), the sharp-tongued heroine of Miami Rhapsody, delivers her opening lines straight into the camera, you know you’re entering a suburb of Woody Allenville. Gwyn, an advertising copywriter who holds everything to impossible standards, is engaged to Matt (Gil Bellows), an animal researcher who dotes on her. Everywhere she looks, though, couples are falling apart. Her parents (Mia Farrow and Paul Mazursky), whom she’d assumed had a perfect marriage, are both having affairs. So are her brother (Kevin Pollak) and her sister (Carla Gugino). The surface conceit of Miami Rhapsody is that these imperfect relationships sow the seeds of doubt in Gwyn. The movie’s underlying comic perception is much richer: It’s that Gwyn’s anxieties spring from her own selfish nature, and that boredom, affairs, and commitment neuroses are the natural — indeed, healthy — by-products of modern relationships. Frankel’s dialogue has an infectious snap. The rejoinders he’s written for Gwyn are funny enough to keep us laughing and acid enough to let us see that she’s using her wit to keep life at arm’s length. The cast is uniformly fetching — I especially liked Antonio Banderas as a chivalrous Cuban nurse — and Parker, at once vibrant and snarky, gives her first fully commanding screen performance. She and Frankel have created a refreshingly up-to-the-minute heroine, a deeply romantic woman who nevertheless backs off from commitment — not because she’s scared, exactly, but because she’s earned the bittersweet luxury of refusing to define herself by love. Before Sunrise: A- Miami Rhapsody: A-

'Before Sunrise" is about a young American man and a young French woman who meet on a train in Europe, get off together in Vienna and spend 14 hours walking around the city before separating, probably forever.

It's about the sights and sounds of Vienna and two people talking -- and that's all, if judged coldly in terms of screen action. But the film captures much more. It's a lovely and wistful celebration of youth, time and moments of connection -- and about the experience of living in the midst of a simple, perfect day that you know you'll remember for the rest of your life.

You have to admire the confidence of writer-director Richard Linklater ("Slackers," "Dazed and Confused") in believing that 1) he could make the film work; and 2) that anyone would want to see it.


The film, which opens today, gambles big, pursuing an emotion that is powerful yet elusive. It eases viewers into a unique participation, in which they see the characters both as fictional entities and as abstractions, virtual stand-ins for themselves. The film succeeds by fulfilling the audience's one demand: that it be honest every second.

"Before Sunrise" dares to be boring. It's like "My Dinner With Andre," but without Andre.

The people here, the young American, Jesse (Ethan Hawke), and the French student, Celine (Julie Delpy), are not extraordinary in themselves. They're just experiencing something extraordinary, or at least something that feels extraordinary: the one-day romance.

They meet on a train from Budapest heading toward France. Their first conversation, in the lounge car, plays as completely off the cuff, yet it introduces After a chance encounter on a train, Julie Delphy and Ethan Hawke spend 14 hours together in Vienna in 'Before Sunrise' some of the film's ideas.

He tells her he wants to start a cable channel in which the lives of average dull people would be followed from waking to sleeping. And she tells him that she is "afraid of death 24 hours a day."

With that the film lays it out: Life is dull and much too short. The rest of the movie depicts an attempt by two people to hold the moment, to have a single day that's fully lived.

"Before Sunrise" maintains dramatic interest by keeping the two from ever feeling completely safe. They test, observe and ask questions of each other.

There are moments of awkwardness -- what will they do to amuse themselves? There is also sexual tension. The relationship never finds a relaxed equilibrium. Each takes chances and retreats, and each looks for permission to reveal and feel more.

The film gives us Vienna mostly through the eyes of Celine and Jesse -- seen through a cloud of romantic self-absorption. Beauti ful settings are received by the young lovers, and to an extent by the audience, as mere backdrops to better showcase their youth and happiness.

Friendly strangers turn up -- a fortune teller, a pair of actors drumming up business for a store-front show -- but they seem less like individuals than they do a part of the magic of the time and place.

The film re-creates what it's like to be in a state of heightened longing and sensitivity. Whether it's transitory images in a painting by Seurat, tombstones in an old cemetery or the stillness of an ancient Viennese church at night, everything is funneled through the characters' -- and soon the audience's -- awareness of time running out.

Hawke and Delpy are superb. In scene after scene, with the camera bearing down on them and often keeping very still, the actors bring off pages and pages of scripted conversation with a naturalness that might wrongly

make you suspect they were improvising. "Before Sunrise" puts them under merciless scrutiny, but throughout they remain charming and wonderfully true.

Not everyone will be swept away by "Before Sunrise." Some will say, "Who cares?" But those who come for the ride will find the film increasingly moving, particularly in the last half, when the romantic and goofy Jesse and the pragmatically pessimistic Celine decide that this should be their one and only night, that they shouldn't screw up a good thing with a dwindling correspondence and unkept promises.


From there the film becomes surprisingly powerful. You really feel the tug, the import of day turning into night and the dread of night turning into day.

There are moments when time seems to stop -- for example, in the scene where they sit on a bridge and look down on the city. And other moments when you know they're "back in real time," even before they say so.

"Before Sunrise" is not flashy, but it's quietly great -- and at times wise.

When Linklater, who co-wrote the screenplay with Kim Krizan, returns for a kind of coda showing in the cold light of the next day all the places Jesse and Celine visited, you realize just how in control he has been all along. It's pure cinema, a rare moment of sweetness and pain.

If, like his characters, Linklater ever wanted to transcend time, he may have done it with this one. "Before Sunrise" is so simple, successful and timeless that it's hard to imagine it not enduring.

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