“I kind of see this all love as this, escape for two people who don’t know how to be alone. People always talk about how love is this totally unselfish, giving thing, but if you think about it, there’s nothing more selfish,” says Jesse to Celine.
Falling in love can bring great joy, heartbreak, or both simultaneously. The very technology that is supposed to bring us closer together today actually isolates us even more. It’s more difficult than ever to meet someone despite all of the supposed additional options that are available to us. Falling in love is even more difficult, and yet as I watched Richard Linklater’s 1995 classic Before Sunrise, I couldn’t help but feel hopeful that love can still be found (even though the film is almost 20 years old). I had the chance last month to attend a screening of Linklater’s film (his third overall and the first of what eventually became a trilogy) at the Elinor Bunin Monroe Film Center in Lincoln Center (the Film Society of Lincoln Center was presenting a mini-retrospective of the Celine and Jesse trilogy: Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight).
Before Sunrise starts on a Eurotrain traveling across Europe. A bickering German couple bring together Celine, a young French woman on her way back to Paris, and Jesse, a young American who is headed to Vienna to catch a flight back to the United States. Celine and Jesse’s initial conversation grows as they slowly get to know each other. When the train stops in Vienna, Jesse boldly asks Celine to get off with him so that they could continue their conversations. As they explore Vienna, they continue getting to know each other and discuss various issues and ideas. With their bond growing stronger, they begin to fall in love while painfully aware that they may never see each other again after the next day.
Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy deliver incredible performances as Jesse and Celine. It is to their credit that Jesse and Celine feel authentic (thanks partly to a screenplay by Linklater and Kim Krizan). Their falling in love doesn’t feel forced but completely natural as the film progresses. These two characters are well-defined and expose themselves emotionally. A viewer cannot help but share Jesse and Celine’s joy as well as their sadness and grief (it’s surprising that Hawke and Delpy never received any serious awards recognition for this film). It’s difficult to pick a favorite scene because Hawke and Delpy are just magnificent together, but the one that sticks out a little more than the others for me is the scene in Vienna where Celine and Jesse visit a music shop. They go into a listening booth to check out a song, and as they listen to it, they slowly glance back and forth at each other (revealing a much deeper connection with each other).
The Vienna locales used in the film look gorgeous even in a late afternoon setting as well as after dark (courtesy of director of photography Lee Daniel). Richard Linklater’s direction is assured and steady. After making 1991’s Slacker and 1993’s Dazed and Confused, Linklater’s talents were on full display for Before Sunrise, a film that shows how love can be found in the most unexpected of places.