Friday, February 13, 2009

Film for Lovers: Before Sunrise

Egad, a third daily entry in a row. How is this even possible? Science, my friends, it's only science. (And also magic, but keep that on the down-low.)

Tonight, we've arrived at part three of my five-part series of posts on noteworthy generally non-mainstream love-themed films for the Valentine's season. Because why should you even consider spending the holiday conversing and deepening your relationship when you could be spending it sedentary, letting good movies do all the romantic work for you? Actual human interaction's for chumps - perhaps in this postmodern society, that goes without saying.

After spending the past couple of entries looking at Paris, Je T'aime and The Baxter, this time we take a look at Before Sunrise, an all-time personal favorite film. (Which might sound sappy coming from someone as cynical as myself - especially so in regards to love - but you'd have to be completely dead inside not to fall in love with this movie.) A story minimalist, naturalistic, and stream-of-consciousness in its conception and execution, Before Sunrise is a love story of a variety rarely seen in cinema: one that's truly believable.

Written by Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, A Scanner Darkly, Fast Food Nation, Waking Life (Which also features a brief appearance by Before Sunrise's leads.)) and Kim Krizan and directed by Linklater himself, Before Sunrise is a 1995 film in which the characters themselves are the story. Like all love stories, we have two central characters. Jesse (Ethan Hawke), an American, is on his way to Vienna to catch a flight back to the United States. Céline (Julie Delpy), a young French woman, is returning to school in Paris after a trip to her grandmother's in Budapest. The two of them meet on the train, and after some convincing from Jesse - suggesting that a decade or two down the line, she might not be satisfied with her marriage and wondering what could have been had she picked up with another guy, and that he was just another boring, unmotivated guy like the rest - Céline agrees to disembark with him in Vienna.

The two of them spend the rest of the day and night exploring the city on foot, the entirety of the film playing out as a thoroughly enjoyable, naturalistic day-long conversation between the two characters as they talk about life, love, and everything else around Vienna. Enjoyable dialogue and character development are Before Sunrise's meat and potatoes. As the film progresses, a very organic romantic chemistry develops between the characters, Hawke and Delpy's performances being of a caliber that allows the viewer to forget you're watching performances and instead feel more as though you're spying on two ordinary people falling in love. Night falls, and the couple has to figure out how to spend it, lacking the cash to get a room anywhere. When morning arrives, they're faced with all sorts of complications in having agreed to never see each other again after spending that one day together.

Conceptually, Before Sunrise undoubtedly isn't for everybody - certainly here in America, you'd be hard-pressed to find a mainstream audience interested in watching a film that amounts to essentially eavesdropping on a two-hour conversation between two people. But it's that unpretentious, unglamorous take on a love story unfolding between two people that lends the film its realistic atmosphere. (With a touch of magic, of course, as there is in all natural connections.) The central themes of self-fulfillment and self-discovery through interaction with a lover is one not explored anywhere nearly as well - and often not even addressed - in mainstream romantic cinema. (Which frequently doesn't seem to have a clue how this whole love thing works.) The film's supporting cast consists of mostly small name to no-name European actors (And undoubtedly in some cases, ordinary Viennese), and the soundtrack complements the film well, between use of a fair amount of classical music and a notable scene featuring Kath Bloom's "Come Here." The cinematography itself gives us a beautiful street-level view of Vienna, the city acting as a silent third character alongside the leads, a perfect backdrop for their romance.

While all these things are wonderful and only contribute to the brilliance of Before Sunrise, the real stars, of course, are the script and leads. You'd never see a Hollywood romance with a script quite like this, largely because by Hollywood standards, a naturalistic, believable love story isn't generally considered to be very interesting or marketable. Before Sunrise is absolute proof to the contrary. All you need is the right leads, an excellent script, and someone behind the camera who knows how to direct with the right amount of subtlety and sensitivity that mainstream and Hollywood cinema by and large lack in their focus on flourish and grandiose story arcs. That sort of cinema is all about the big stories - but those aren't the stories most true to life. Life's all about the small, beautiful stories. And Before Sunrise is all about life. Together, Céline and Jesse embrace and experience life to its fullest in getting to know and understand one another, and through that, themselves as well. It's a heartfelt celebration, cinematic love at its finest.


Lindsay Champion said...

I've been meaning to check out this movie for a while. Thanks for reminding me!

Benjamin Fennell said...

No problem! It's a wonderful film. I hope you enjoy it thoroughly once you get the chance.