Two people meet on a train and end up exploring Vienna together. Perhaps not the most enticing plot synopsis that’s ever appeared on the back of a DVD yet Richard Linklater’s film is one of the most captivating films you can come across.
Very rarely in films is a relationship the whole story. In a superhero movie the best you can hope for is a damsel in distress. Most action flicks will have a love interest created purely for hostage situations. Even in a rom-com the key relationship can often play second fiddle to toilet humour (sometimes literally, we’re looking at you Bridesmaids). So Before Sunrise is a refreshing and interesting film. Essentially you spend two hours watching two people talking to each other. Yet because of this simplicity of subject matter the depth of connection between Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and the way in which they interact over time can be explored fully by the film.
This cannot be put down to only one element of the film. Evidently, the script has been crafted with immense lightness of touch else the film would fall apart in a clatter of trite and clumsy exchanges. After all, when there is nothing else to pay attention to it’s quite important that the lines are natural and make sense. I believe that this film rests on the shoulders of the two young actors it employs. Both are exceedingly naturalistic and bounce off one another with some of the most genuine on-screen chemistry I’ve ever seen. With these performances this film seems almost to be a documentary.
The film is ultimately uplifting in tone. Even if the circumstances of the narrative are not cookie-cutter perfect it is still a vibrant and youthful depiction of love and life. Perhaps it is also naïve and a little cloying but that seems to be only the fault of youth. Too often films shape characters who are wise beyond their years in order to serve the plot. Here however you are just given a non-sentimental view of two people falling in love. Neither character ever states that they are in love, but there’s a point where it becomes obvious. Who knows how or when, that’s not what the film is for; we are simply here to observe this odd miracle.