June 16 is an extra special dates for cinephiles across the globe. It is the day Jesse and Celine, the iconic couple, immortalized in Richard Linklater’s ‘Before Sunrise’ trilogy met. The three films- Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight- have gone on to become classics in the canon of world cinema because of the unique way the director chose to portray the age old story of ‘boy meets girl.’
The first film in the trilogy, Before Sunrise, opens with a scene in a train that has departed from Budapest. Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) are in their early twenties, revelling in their youthful idealism. Jesse is an American on holiday while Celine is a French student. A chance conversation on the same train makes both characters develop a strange fondness for each other. The rest of the film follows these two charismatic people roam the streets of Vienna, discovering each other, the city and themselves.
Before Sunrise reexamines romantic relationships
Perhaps what is most striking about the film is how the central characters remain the focus throughout. Every frame of the film has Jesse and Celine in it, talking non-stop as they slowly find themselves drawn to one another. Their relationship, over the course of one night, grows from strength to strength solely based on the conversations between them. The film has no supporting characters or the distracting elements of a conventional plot that even for a second steal our attention away from the principal characters.
Romance films have had an age-old formula. Boy meets girl and then there are obstacles they overcome to eventually end up together. Before Sunrise does away with most of these romance film tropes focusing entirely on Jesse and Celine coming to terms with questions about life and love. Despite the limited time the characters spend in the film (all the events transpire over the course of one night) there’s a huge amount of progress in their relationship. Their conversations are heartfelt and intimate and a reflection of the kind of people they are and who they want to become.
The film also reevaluates the idea of falling in love. Do two people need to know each for an extended period of time before they fall in love? Or is it simply enough to have an electric connection on your first meeting, fuelled by deep, meaningful conversation? The director evidently privileges the second. Love does, after all depend as much on an intellectual connection as it does on a physical.
How travel acts as a catalyst for romance in Before Sunrise
The city of Vienna forms a stunning background as Jesse and Celine explore their relationship. They wander through narrow alleyways, stop at small cafés, and have brief encounters with locals, each interaction with the city somehow deepening their understanding of each other. Philosophical questions of about our society, about the strain of growing up and the need to negotiate who you are with what you want to be are all evocatively discussed in the film.
Hawke and Delpy are exquisite in their portrayals of these two characters. Their chemistry is palpable from their very first encounter. They beautifully add depth to their romance just in the way they share stolen glances and longingly look at each other. Linklater’s affection for his own characters is visible in the way he shoots them. There’s almost a dream-like quality to everything Jesse and Celine go through together. You find yourself rooting for this unlikely couple right from the very beginning.
Watch Before Sunrise if you’re looking for an unconventional take on romance and love. All the hype that surrounds the film is absolutely deserved.