HCF may be one of the newest voices on the web for all things Horror and Cult, and while our aim is to bring you our best opinion of all the new and strange that hits the market, we still cannot forget about our old loves, the films that made us want to create the website to spread the word. So, now and again our official critics at the HCF headquarters have an urge to throw aside their new required copies of the week and dust down their old collection and bring them to the fore…. our aim, to make sure that you may have not missed the films that should be stood proud in your collection. Considering what day it is today, Dr Lenera presents a complete change of pace for the site, taking time from the usual sorts of movies we review to look at two of his favourite romantic movies which have attained a dedicated cult following!
HCF REWIND NO.37. BEFORE SUNRISE
AVAILABLE ON DVD
DIRECTED BY: Richard Linklater
WRITTEN BY:Richard Linklater, Kim Krizan
STARRING:Ethen Hawke, Julie Delpy, Andrea Eckhert, Hanno Poschl
RUNNING TIME:105 mins
REVIEWED BY:Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
On a train from Budapest, Jesse, a young American heading for Vienna to catch a flight back to the United States, strikes up a conversation with Celine, a French girl returning to university in Paris. When they reach Vienna, Jesse, sensing that they have some kind of connection, and partly to pass the time before his scheduled flight the next morning, convinces Céline to take a chance and spend the day with him in Vienna. She agrees, and they begin to explore the city, possibly forming a bond along the way………….
I make no secret of it – I generally prefer visuals to dialogue in movies. Given the choice between reams of talking and something actually physically happening, I would choose the latter on most occasions. While I certainly appreciate good dialogue, I have primarily always seen cinema as a predominately visual medium, and to me a pretty and/or interesting shot can have more emotion than lots of actual emoting. So why do I simple adore Before Sunrise [and its sequel Before Sunset]? 102 minutes of a man and a woman wondering around a city yapping away? God, if someone had told me what this movie was about now, I doubt I’d want to see it. But something besides seeing pictures of the lovely Julie Delpy made me walk into that cinema back in 1995 to see Before Sunrise, and I immediately fell in love with the film. I think I know some of the answer, at least.
Deep down, and some readers may find this hard to believe, I consider myself a romantic, and Before Sunrise for me depicts that dream experience that probably never happens and probably can never happen, when you may meet someone who is totally one hundred percent your soul mate and spontaneously spend an incredibly fulfilling day with them, a day which, even if you never see the other person again, is a high point of your life and changes you for the better, helps you to become the person you’re trying to be. The film depicts this with a kind of heightened realism [it’s mostly realistic and has the feel of being realistic, but some things probably couldn’t really happen if you think about it], while still being more genuinely touching than virtually all rom-coms of the last twenty years put together. Beautifully observed and sublime in its simplicity, to me it’s one of the most romantic pictures ever made, and yet it has no ‘big’ moments, no sub-plots, just lots of wonderful small bits and pieces which prove that, in the right hands, just how affecting small bits and pieces can be.
It was inspired by a woman that writer/director Richard Linklater met in a toy shop in Philadelphia. They walked around the city all day and all night and never saw each other again. His screenplay, which seems to have deliberate parallels with James Joyce’s book Ulysses [where we follow a man wandering around Dublin for a day and a night], was written with Kim Krizan and was finished in eleven days, but nine months were spent casting the film, because Linklater just couldn’t decide who would be right, and Ethan Hawke was actually thought of quite early on but considered too old at first. When Hawke and Julie Delpy were finally chosen, they were able to improvise some of their own dialogue. Partly Viennese financed, the film was made on a very small budget and was hardly a huge hit but made its money back very quickly and soon attained a strong cult following.
This is a film primarily of looks and gestures, and you know if you are going to appreciate it or not in the first scene. On the train, a German couple are arguing, and Celine moves away from them to sit opposite Jesse. Though he starts the conversation, it is she who looks at him first. Their conversation almost immediately starts getting into existential matters, and a common criticism of the film is that too much of the talk is sophisticated. I disagree with this; Jesse may seem to come from a more consumerist background than Celine, who seems to come from a more artistic one, but these are two highly intelligent people who spend time thinking, with Celine perhaps more so than Jesse, but I’ve never questioned for a moment the nature of their conversation, be it reincarnation, death, parents, exes, media manipulation etc. Some of it may seem meaningless, but does throw up some interesting concepts, such as real magic being the space between people, and reincarnation being a hell of a lot harder now there are more people alive now than in any previous time. In any case, isn’t it much more interesting than hearing them go on about how much alcohol they had the previous night?
The script is perhaps a little forced in getting Celine to get off the train with Jesse, who seems just a tad sleazy to me – perhaps it would have worked better if he had just asked her simply rather than launching into a speech. Then again, it’s obvious that Celine has already partly fallen for Jesse – just watch her face when Jesse talks to her about his grandmother and when he was young – so she might possibly have fallen for anything. Even sweeter than that moment is when they go into a record shop and, in a listening booth, look at each other when the other one isn’t. This beautiful little scene shows two people falling for each other in a way that is refreshingly original but somehow feels very believable too, and the timing and the slight embarrassment are perfectly judged and wonderful to watch. Then they start to wander around the city, and they go in a few bars, a church, visit a graveyard full of anonymous graves, and don’t encounter anything especially exciting; amateur actors, a fortune telle, a gypsy, and eventually a homeless poet, whose poem, about two wondering souls who are caught up together in life’s passage, spells out the heart of the film.
It’s been said that there’s no way that the two characters could have visited all the places they do by foot, but as I mentioned before the film employs a kind of heightened realism. There is a street at night which is absurdly over lit; Jesse blags a free bottle of wine from a barman in a club; after spending virtually the whole day and night outside they both look great the next morning. Jesse and Celine confess their true feelings for each other when they pretend they are phoning people at home. Maybe this isn’t altogether realistic, but the important things are: you believe it while you are watching the film, and it reinforces the basic story of two romantics disguised as cynics who find what might just possibly be the romance of their life. Now it’s ben said that whether they actually have sex is left ambiguous, but it’s not if you look closely. What is ambiguous is the ending, which may not be possible to do in these days of social networking! Today, instead of planning to meet in six months time, she would have just said to him “I’m on Facebook”. In any case, it’s a bittersweet finish. I’ve often [though not always] doubted they would have met up; I mean if you watch the second half of the film closely, cracks already begin to show in the relationship and both exhibit slightly unpleasant attitudes which annoy the other person.
Ethan Hawke has never been a favourite actor of mine, but he’s terrific in this film. In some ways he has the harder role, in that he has to convey more development. Jesse is almost an adolescent, looking for something indefinable which will make him a man, someone who hasn’t really begun his journey to maturity and though he says he’s been in love before, I don’t entirely believe him. He almost physically matures before our very eyes during the course of the film. Celine, on the other hand, is almost the person she should be, and the divine, beautiful Delpy really gives the impression that this particular person thinks she has had all the experiences she needs but is still unfulfilled. Before Sunrise is a kind of fairytale, and yet it is full of poignant truths about life and love that should resonate with almost everyone. It’s perfectly poised between happiness and sadness, just like life, and its bittersweet depiction of two young people, full of hope and positivity, the majority of their lives ahead of them, never fails to touch me very deeply inside.