By Gerald Higgins
from Nottingham, England
, 23 Jul 2004
Richard Linklater follows his previous offering Dazed and Confused, with a venture into Europe, a Brief Encounter for the Slacker generation. Ethan Hawke plays Jesse, a young American destined to fly home from Vienna the next morning and Julie Delphy plays the ethereal Celine bound for Paris. They meet on the train between Vienna and Budapest, get talking by accident and find there is some mutual attraction. Then, just as the train arrives in Vienna Jesse realises he may never see Celine again, he persuades her to get off the train and spend the next 14 hours with him, arguing that for all she knows he may be the love of her life. As the evening proceeds so their relationship develops; they trade intimate questions, contest opposing philosophies and gradually become captivated with one another. The drama hinges on whether or not they will meet again, for about halfway through the evening, they declare this as their one and only night together. Yet, as Celine and Jesse start to fall for each other, the film teases enough details out for us to realise that keeping this promise would be an act of such stubbornness that it would cause eternal regret.
Linklater may be American, but Before Sunrise is essentially European in its lineage and has little in common with past American films such as Roman Holiday or Three Coins in a Fountain that used Europe to signify something exotic and passionate, the perfect setting for an affair or romantic encounter. Moreover, Jesse and Celine are already wary of love, Jesse`s parents are divorced and he has just been ditched by his girlfriend, while Celine talks disparagingly about her parents lost ideals. For this reason Vienna is a significant setting, it is still a place of history and stories, but is not lumbered with cliched romantic connotations that other capital cities would have. The implication is that Jesse and Celine must provide their own entertainment, they will not be seduced by the city they are in, rather only by themselves. Likewise, the audience is not distracted by the surroundings, as this is far from a travelogue experience; throughout Delphy and Hawke fill the screen in a two-shot, not admiring the view but each other.
Without doubt this is fantasy stuff: an unambiguous setting, the perfect couple, the pure, idealist meeting of minds and souls. The encounters with poet and fortune teller, while devices to illustrate differing character, also hint at how transparent romantic love can be, and how willing we are to believe in it. In one sense it is almost unimaginable that such an absolute scenario would ever happen; but that is one function of cinema and it successfully taps into the dreams of many a young man or woman seeking that perfect liaison.
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