Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Ten Statements About....BEFORE SUNRISE (1995)

Sometimes all you need is two people to create compelling
"Think of it like this: jump ahead, ten, twenty years, okay, and you're married. Only your marriage doesn't have that same energy that it used to have, y'know. You start to blame your husband. You start to think about all those guys you've met in your life and what might have happened if you'd picked up with one of them, right? Well, I'm one of those guys. That's me y'know, so think of this as time travel, from then, to now, to find out what you're missing out on. See, what this really could be is a gigantic favor to both you and your future husband to find out that you're not missing out on anything. I'm just as big a loser as he is, totally unmotivated, totally boring, and, uh, you made the right choice, and you're really happy."
"Let me get my bag."

1) Maybe it's because Richard Linklater isn't as ever-present and larger than life than his larger-than-life filmmaking peers like Tarantino and Kevin Smith, but I'd put him right up with the others as a master of true-to-life dialogue. This movie boils down to two people having an extended conversation...and it's just as engaging as another film full of action and explosions and all sorts of bright shiny things.

2) And one of the brilliant things about this film full of brilliant things is how Linklater includes all the elements of the romantic comedy--the 'meet cute,' the big city backdrop, the first date, the first fight, even the weird supporting characters--and compresses it into a single night, removing all the artifice and silly behavior to just create what amounts to a wonderful little short story in filmic form. And never once does Linklater forces Ethan Hawke's Jessie or Julie Delphy's Celine into situations or actions just so the plot will move forward.

3) And what's more--this movie will never, ever date. The only real cultural reference is the one made to Hemingway, and maaaaybe the only thing that will seem out of place is Hawke's very 90's hairstyle. There will be college students a hundred years from now who will watch this film and get the same things out of it I got out of it when I first saw it.
Ahhh, Julie Delphy...if it wasn't for Killing Zoe, you might
have been The Beautiful One...

4) Ahhhhhhh, Julie of the most beautiful women I've ever seen, with one of the easiest smiles ever. Not a smile that will light up a city like some women, but will keep you warm in your cabin on a cold midwinter's night. When I first saw this film, I thought I could watch her in anything....and then I ended up watching Am American Werewolf In Paris...and Killing Zoe...and...

Well, you get the point. Thank God I always have this, which is a showcase for her as a woman and as an actress.

5) This film would not have worked without the chemistry between Delphy and Hawke. Not only do we get this sense that Jessie and Celine have a life outside this film, we get a sense that this is a seminal moment in their lives solely through their interaction with each other--and all without the big gestures and grand standing that mainstream Hollywood would consider 'romantic'....

6) I know most people would be puzzled as to why there are no subtitles when Jessie and Celine encounter other folks...but Linklater knows that what these people are saying is inconsequential. After all, both of our heroes are foreigners in the land they inhabit, and since they're our POV characters it makes sense that they wouldn't know what they're speaking about. And Hell, we don't even need to know what the annoying couple that prompts Celine to move her seat are talking about; their only purpose is to spur her on to meeting Jessie, so why they're arguing is inconsequential.

7) What struck me watching the film this time is the body language between Hawke and Delphy. The things they do when they're together speak volumes about what they're thinking. Even something as simple as Delphy taking Hawke's arms and wrapping it around herself while they're walking down the street, neither looking or acknowledging this act, is a beautiful indicator of their thoughts.

8) Of all the satellite characters, I love Dominic Castell's street poet the most. There's something really compelling about the deal he makes with the two, and the poem actually is the point where you get the fact that even Jessie is impressed even though he is mocking the man as he leaves.
"Hello...hello...this imaginary phone doesn't work..."

9) I love how Linklater trusts our actors (he apparently spent nine months looking for the right combination before going into production) enough to leave so many areas open to interpetation. A lesser director would have given us an actual sex scene between Hawke and Delphy; Linklater never tells, letting us take the fact that Celine is no longer wearing a t-shirt after the scene on the lawn (and Jessie may very well be wearing it) and come to our own conclusion.

10) And Linklater has the guts to let this film end the way it should have--not with Jessie abandoning his intentions to return to the States, or with Celine deciding to go with him, or with a flash forward to six months later...he lets this remain this one perfect, discrete moment in these two people's lives and lets us decide what happened next. And while he has returned to these characters twice (in a scene in his surreal cartoon Waking Life, and in the 2007 sequel Before Sunset), we can keep our conclusions as the perfect coda for us.

Overall...a beautiful, wonderful jewel of a film that is near perfect from beginning to end, it can be funny, sexy, sweet and lovely all at the same time. Anyone who thinks modern romantic films are the death of cinema need to see this to see how this is done.

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