'90s Movie Month! "Before Sunrise" Review

Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures

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-- Rating: R
Length: 105 minutes
Release Date: January 27, 1995
Directed by: Richard Linklater
Genre: Drama, Romance

"Before Sunrise" lets audiences peek into a one-time romantic encounter in Europe with a storyline that is reminiscent of the classic film "An Affair to Remember." The plot is simple, and very little takes place outside of the couple talking, learning about each other, and exploring Vienna. Although the scenario may sound dull and boring, the movie is anything but. Director Richard Linklater, who also wrote the screenplay along with Kim Krizan, has managed to create a film that makes viewers feel as though they are watching real people interact, filmed through the eyes of hidden cameras.

The story begins in 1994 when Jesse Wallace (Ethan Hawke), a young American man on his way to Vienna to catch a flight back to the United States, meets Céline (Julie Delpy), a young French student who is on her way back to the Sorbonne in Paris after visiting her grandmother. The two instantly feel a chemistry, and they decide to spend some time together during the long train ride.

After a lengthy conversation, Jesse asks Céline if she would consider disembarking with him in Vienna and keeping him company until it's time for his flight to take off. His argument was compelling. He asked her to imagine what her life would be like years in the future if she found herself in an unhappy marriage and she wondered what her life might have been like if she had made a different choice on this night. She finally agrees. Since his flight doesn't leave until the morning, they decide to spend the evening exploring Vienna.

As the couple start to feel more comfortable with each other, romance begins to blossom and they share their first kiss at sunset atop the Wiener Riesenrad. They begin to share a bit more about their histories. Jesse reveals that he had traveled to Europe to visit his girlfriend who was attending school in Madrid, but the visit didn't go well. Céline tells Jesse that her last relationship ended just six months earlier.

As the two make their way through Vienna, they encounter and share conversations with a variety of different people, including street poets, fortunetellers, bartenders, and amateur actors. As the evening progresses, they begin to share even more about themselves, and their feelings for each other become palpable. With morning drawing near, Jesse and Céline finally admit how much they like each other, although they both understand that this will most likely be the last time they meet. Jesse confesses to Céline that he would rather marry her than risk never seeing her again. When morning finally arrives, the two head back to the train station. They decide not to give each other their contact information, but instead agree to meet up again at the same place in six months.

What makes this film so utterly real and believable is that there is no pretense or ulterior motive. This is simply two people who meet, become attracted to each other, and then have to part ways. They experience that one thing many people spend their entire lives looking for—finding their soul mate. There is an instant connection that can be felt, and it leaves viewers knowing that these two must part ways but hoping that they won't.

When it was released, "Before Sunrise" received high praise from the critics, and it won director Richard Linklater a Silver Bear award for Best Director at the 45th Berlin International Film Festival. The film went on to gross roughly $22.6 million worldwide, an incredible feat for a movie with a production budget of less than $3 million.

A sequel, "Before Sunset," was released in 2004, and it also received critical acclaim. That film takes place nine years after "Before Sunrise," when the two meet up again in Paris, only this time, Jesse is married and has a child. Nine more years later, in 2013, the same characters appear in "Before Midnight." This time, Jesse has divorced his first wife and married Céline. The couple now live in Greece and are parents to twin girls who were conceived when the couple met for the second time in Paris. This is the first film of the trilogy in which reality and fantasy crash together for the couple, as they try to work out the kinks of married life.

Unless Linklater is determined to keep this story as a trilogy, audiences may meet up with Jesse and Céline again in 2022. Perhaps the marriage will be in trouble, or maybe they will be dealing with empty-nest syndrome as their twins head off to college. Only Richard Linklater knows for sure.

Rating: 4 out of 5