Tue, 22 Jun 2021

Before Sunrise

Director: Richard Linklater
Screenplay: Richard Linklater & Kim Krizan
Stars: Ethan Hawke (Jesse), Julie Delpy (Cline), Andrea Eckert (Wife on Train), Hanno Pschl (Husband on Train), Karl Bruckschwaiger (Guy on Bridge), Tex Rubinowitz (Guy on Bridge), Erni Mangold (Palm Reader), Dominik Castell (Street Poet), Haymon Maria Buttinger (Bartender)
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 1995
Country: U.S.
Before Sunrise

Before Sunrise

Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise achieves a near perfect balancing act between unabashed romanticism and existential despair. That, of course, makes it sound like a heavy slog of a film, especially after I mention that almost the entirety of its 101 minutes consists of two people talking-but it's not. Not at all. Part of the film's exquisite beauty is the way it draws us into the ever-evolving romantic and spiritual and intellectual connection between its two college-age protagonists-an American tourist named Jesse (Ethan Hawke) who has been riding around Europe on a Eurail pass for several weeks and a Parisian named Cline (Julie Delpy) who is returning from visiting her grandmother in Budapest. There is nothing especially unique about either character; they are, in a sense, each representative of a particular type of twentysomething, namely the kind who reads a lot, hangs out in coffee shops, and finds philosophical debate enjoyable-in other words, Linklater surrogates. Yet, as the film unfolds, Hawke and Delpy not only make them into indelible, unique characters, but make absolutely palpable their attraction to each other, in both mind and body.

The film opens on a train, where Jesse and Cline meet after she moves seats to get away from a bickering German couple (a foreshadowing of love gone sour, an issue with which both of them grapple and worry). They bond immediately over the books they're reading, and Jesse invites Cline to join him in the lounge car for lunch. They talk and talk, easing into a conversational connection that allows them to gradually expose who are they are via their memories, fears, hopes, and dreams. When the train arrives at the station in Vienna, Jesse takes a chance and invites Cline to get off with him. He is scheduled to fly out at 9:30 the next morning, and lacking money for a hotel, he had planned to spend the rest of the day and the night walking around the city. There is a moment of hesitation, but she agrees, thus setting up the dramatic stakes for the rest of the film, which is little more than how intense their relationship can get before the clock runs out on them.

Thus, much Before Sunrise rests on the attractive shoulders of Hawke and Delpy, both of whom were established young stars with an impressive list of credits in both studio and independent films; Delpy had appeared as an object of intense desire in Krzysztof Kieslowski's Three Colors: White (1993) as well as Disney's The Three Musketeers (1993), while Hawke had become the face of Gen-X slackerdom with his role in Reality Bites (1994) after a decade of playing young, idealist characters in films like Explorers (1985) and Dead Poets Society (1989). They performances here are quite remarkable, especially as they grow gradually better as the film progresses. That is, in the early passages they are a bit awkward and unsure, much like their characters, but as Jesse and Cline get to know each other better and feel increasingly at ease sharing their deepest selves, the actors' performances become more fluid, natural, and relaxed. By the end, they feel fully inhabited, lived in, complete. This is perhaps best illustrated in the "telephone sequence," in which Jesse and Cline are sitting across from each in a caf and each pretend to call a friend back home to explain what is going on as a means of revealing to each other the depth of their growing feelings. It's a genuinely beautiful sequence-sublime, in fact, in the way it is both subtly erotic and undeniably sweet (they are, in a way, like kids who are just a bit too shy to day what they mean directly).

Because the film eschews anything resembling a traditional narrative structure, Linklater and his co-screenwriter Kim Krizan are free to follow the characters through their discourse, building in small dramatic conflicts that help give some shape to the film's flow, but without insisting on forced peaks and valleys. There is a memorable scene, for example, when they are at an outdoor caf and are approached by a palm reader. Cline, who is in some ways the more trusting and open of the two, allows her to read her palm and then pays her the five shillings. Jesse is annoyed by what he sees as an obvious con job, and he derides Cline's willingness to go through the ruse, albeit with a veneer of humor so as not to overstep their tentative bounds. For her part, Cline is clearly hurt by his words, but she is similarly unwilling to enter into a grand dramatic moment so early in their relationship, which shows that, however open they may be, they are still holding back. In other words, while Before Sunrise is inundated with a sense of intense romanticism, it is also realistic enough to understand the limitations of young minds that are grappling with the last vestiges of childhood naivet and idealism, but unwilling to sink into any kind of outright cynicism or despair. They are working through their time in life, and the beauty of Before Sunrise is that we get to see them doing it together, if only for a brief, shining moment that, in the film's one concession to romantic tragedy, is destined to end.

Before Sunrise Criterion CollectionBlu-ray
The Before Trilogy Blu-ray BoxsetBefore Sunrise is available exclusively as a part of the three-disc "Before Trilogy" boxset, which also includes Before Sunset (2004) and Before Midnight (2013).
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 (all three films)

  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 surround (Before Sunrise

  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround (Before Sunset and Before Midnight

  • SubtitlesEnglish

  • Video discussion featuring writer/director Richard Linklater and actors Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, moderated by critic Kent Jones
  • Behind-the-scenes footage and interviews from the productions of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset
  • Audio commentary on Before Midnight by Delpy, Linklater, and Hawke
  • Richard Linklater: Dream Is Destiny, feature-length 2016 documentary by Louis Black and Karen Bernstein
  • After Before, a new documentary by Athina Rachel Tsangari
  • Video conversation between scholars Dave Johnson and Rob Stone
  • Episode of the radio program Fresh Air featuring host Terry Gross, Linklater, Delpy, and Hawke
  • "Linklater // On Cinema & Time," video essay by filmmaker :: kogonada
  • Essay on the trilogy by critic Dennis Lim
  • DistributorThe Criterion Collection
    Release DateFebruary 28, 2017

    Both Before Sunrise and Before Sunset are making their high-definition debuts in Criterion's new "The Before Trilogy" boxset. Both of those films have remained untouched since their initial DVD releases (in 2001 and 2004, respectively), so their new, restored 2K digital transfers (both made from 35mm interpositives and approved by director Richard Linklater) are much appreciated. Both films look quite a bit better in high definition, with better detail, slightly more robust colors, and an increase in brightness that, while not substantial, still impacts our overall experience watching them. The images are clean and clear, with a subtle presence of grain that attests to their origins on film. The image for Before Midnight is the same as the one that appeared on the 2014 Sony Blu-ray, which is a direct port of the 2K digital film. All three films have DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks; Before Sunrise is presented in its original two-channel mix, while the latter two films both have 5.1-channel mixes. Of course, the majority of all three films is heavily dialogue-based, which leaves little room for surround activity outside of ambient effects and atmosphere, although I noticed that the forlorn piano score on Before Midnight sounds particularly rich.

    The previous home video editions of the films in "The Before Trilogy" were largely lacking in supplementary material, especially Before Sunrise, which had only a theatrical trailer, and Before Sunset, which had only a short making-of featurette. Criterion, whose release of these films has been long rumored and highly anticipated, has rectified that with literally hours of supplementary material spread across three discs to contextualize and deepen our appreciation of Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy's unique cinematic achievement.

    Before Midnight is the only film with an audio commentary, this one featuring director Richard Linklater and stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy that was previously available on the Sony Blu-ray. It's a good listen and attests to how comfortable the three feel with each other (listening to them laugh and joke through the horrors of the lengthy fight scene is highly entertaining in its own right). However, there is also plenty of new stuff. First up is "The Space In-Between," a fascinating 45-minute video discussion featuring Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy, moderated by critic Kent Jones. They discuss all three films, although Delpy doesn't join the discussion until about 20 minutes in (she is also not physically present with the others, but rather joins them via a satellite feed). After Before is a 30-minute documentary about the production of Before Midnight by producer and actor Athina Rachel Tsangari, who shot all the footage during the film's production in Greece. "3x2: A Conversation" offers some academic and scholarly analysis of the trilogy courtesy of two Linklater scholars, Dave Johnson (author of Contemporary Film Directors: Richard Linklater and Rob Stone (author of Richard Linklater: Walk, Don't Run), who spend nearly 40 minutes discussing the interconnections among the three films and their various themes and preoccupations. The interconnections among the films and their emphasis on the nature and perception of time are the subjects of filmmaker :: kogonada's quite moving 8-minute video essay "Linklater // On Cinema & Time." For a truly in-depth look at Linklater's career, you can turn to Richard Linklater: Dream Is Destiny, an 86-minute documentary by Louis Black and Karen Bernstein produced in 2016 for PBS's "American Masters" series. It includes interviews with Linklater, Hawke, Delpy, actor Matthew McConaughey, director Jonathan Demme, editor Sandra Adair, and members of Linklater's family.

    There are also a few bits from the archives, including short promotional featurettes that include behind-the-scenes footage and interviews from Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. There is also a 40-minute episode of the radio program Fresh Air featuring host Terry Gross, Linklater, Delpy, and Hawke recorded after the release of Before Midnight.

    Copyright © 2017 James Kendrick

    Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick

    All images copyright © The Criterion Collection

    Overall Rating: (4)


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