Between Sunrise and Sunset

by Alan Rapp on February 10, 2011

in Home Video, Theme Week

Let me tell you a strange but wonderful story.  Once upon a time there was a filmmaker who made a small independent art house movie that was moderately successful.  No big stars, no special effects, no plot twists here kids.  It was just a two character piece about a man and woman finding each other in Vienna and spending one day and one night together sight seeing, discussing their lives, loves, beliefs, desires, both large and small, and falling in love. 

Usually that’s the end of the tale, but a strange thing happened.  Nine years later that same director and those two actors came together to take a second look at these characters, this time spending only one afternoon together in Paris, discussing the large and small once again and measuring their lives against that one day and night not so long ago.  Sound like a fairy tale?  Well then, you’re in for a wonderful surprise.

  • Title: Before Sunrise
  • IMDB: link

before-sunrise-posterJesse (Ethan Hawke) is traveled to Spain to meet his girlfriend who has been in an overseas program for over a year.  As the movie opens he has been riding the train around Europe for two weeks after a bad breakup killing time before his plane ride home. 

On his way to Vienna he meets Celine (Julie Delpy), a young French woman on her way back to Paris.  They meet and start talking.  After finding some common ground and mutual attraction they arrive in Vienna, where Jesse is scheduled to fly out first thing in the morning.  He convinces Celine to spend the day and night walking around the city with him until he catches his flight.  And so our adventure begins. 

Aside from the countless extras there are only three characters, Jesse, Celine, and the city of Vienna.  We get a wonderful tour of the town through these young eyes that take in the city as they discuss everything from past relationships to the meaning of life and existence of God.

This movie is soooo good.  The chemistry between Celine and Jesse isn’t just physical, but also emotional and intellectual.  Hollywood seems in a rush to push out dumb romantic comedies and I give Linklater huge props for doing an intelligent movie about how lightning can strike between two people.  The set-up of them wandering through Vienna allows us to focus on them and their conversations while still admiring the city around them.  We are not waiting for them to arrive at a certain place, we are just along for the ride, however long it might last. 

The movie is centered on character and dialogue allowing the city to be a passive participant in the story.  The is also a nice juxtaposition of having young lovers meeting and walking around an old European city.  While I think the movie could have worked in New York, Vienna gives the film a certain touch of old world charm.  The movie ends on an ambigious note, but we will get some answers in……….

  • Title: Before Sunset
  • IMDB: link

before-sunset-posterJesse has written a best seller about his one day romantic encounter nine years ago.  He’s on the last leg of his book tour in a small French bookstore just hours before his flight home to America when who should walk in but Celine. 

The two reunite and decide to stroll around Paris to catch up until Jesse has to catch his flight.  Once again a European city, this time Paris, is used as a backdrop for our characters sharing their experiences, ideas, beliefs, and remembrances of that one day together.

It’s amazing how easily the actors fit back into their roles.  Linklater worked with Hawke and Delpy for years on the story incorporating aspects and events of their real lives into the script.  Although I like the original slightly better than the sequel, both are wonderfully smart, witty, funny, and emotional. 

This time the film unravels in real time, as our characters only have a little over an hour to spend together.  The result is an extraordinary film that takes a good look at the good and bad these two have been through over the past nine years.  I was so impressed by this film I wished more filmmakers would follow suit.  Can you just imagine Cameron Crowe making a sequel to Say Anything….?  It’s too bad the movies we love so much don’t get this type of treatment more often.

These two movies are wonderful, and the best work of the director and both stars.  Although you don’t get much extra stuff on the DVDs the real prize are the movies themselves.  How easily they unfold and move through these wonderful old cities as Jesse and Celine discuss their lives.  It’s really amazing how such a simple setup can provide the viewer with such a rich and complex story to partake and enjoy.

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