Before Sunrise works because its two characters are played with a real authenticity. The film, which stars Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, was a surprise critical success when it was released in early 1995. It may have limited dialogue and be nothing more than a 90 minute conversation, but it is terrifically acted and beautifully explores the city of Vienna. It currently has a perfect rating at RottenTomatoes. It is directed by Richard Linklater, who is best known for his films Dazed and Confused (1993) and School of Rock (2003). The film follows Delpy and Hawke as they wander aimlessly around Vienna one summer night. Their relationship may be ill-fated, but the film is never about their future. Nine years after Before Sunrise was released, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke reunited with Richard Linklater for Before Sunset, a sequel set nine years in the future. The lead actors worked on the screenplay with Linklater and the film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Before Sunset, for me, is a much more romantic film with two characters we have already grown to love. It is wonderful to listen to these actors argue and laugh with each other and while Before Sunrise has a unique sense of immaturity, Before Sunset match it with its own charm and sense of urgency.
We first meet Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy) in Before Sunrise as they travel westward on a train from Budapest to Vienna. He is traveling across Europe after a disastrous trip to visit his former girlfriend in Spain, and she is on her way back to France after visiting her grandmother in Hungary. Jesse is booked on a flight leaving from Vienna in the morning and Céline has plans to meet a friend in Paris. Jesse, unable to afford a hotel room for the night, convinces Céline to take a later train from Vienna and spend the night exploring the city with him. The two spend a romantic evening engaged in endless conversation. The city of Vienna is a beautiful backdrop to their blossoming relationship. In the morning Jesse escorts Céline to the train and instead of taking a risk they agree to meet at the same spot in six months time. For nine years audiences wondered if Jesse and Céline had ever rekindled their romance. In Before Sunset we learn the truth about what happened to both during the past nine years. Jesse has just written a fictional novel about a romantic evening he once spent in Vienna with a beautiful woman. He is on a whirlwind European tour and his last stop is in Paris. In the middle of a press interview he sees Céline standing in the corner and quickly finds the opportunity to escape with her. The two begin conversing in the same way they once did and while the first film felt like the two had an eternity to make a decision, Before Sunset unfolds with a greater sense of urgency that has Jesse and Céline forced to examine their lives and discover if they are prepared to take the risk given this second chance.
There is something about Julie Delpy that I find completely alluring. She is a wonderful French actress, but she seems to have been overlooked by audiences because of the charm of Juliette Binoche. Coincidentally, the two starred in Kryzstof Kiéslowski's Trois Couleurs trilogy -- Binoche starred in the first, Bleu, and Delpy in the second, Blanc. A third brilliant French actress, Irène Jacob, starred in the final installment, Rouge. She was the unlucky one who was unable to parlay her talent into Hollywood success. I am drawn to and Before Sunrise and Before Sunset because of my love of dialogue (see my obsession with Quentin Tarantino) and my love of European cities. The two films treat Vienna and Paris like a third character and the cities are brilliantly photographed on film. It is enjoyable to just watch a film that has two characters discovering their love through conversation. When I re-watched the two films I stilled felt as if the entire film was shot in one continuous take and the two actors were just allowed to wander through the cities and converse as normal people. Before Sunset is superior because the two actors are more comfortable in their characters and the dialogue is more realistic. Before Sunrise is a remarkable film and outstanding in its own right, but it is not until Before Sunset that the story of Jesse and Céline feels complete.
My rating: 3.5 stars out of 4 for both.
Also, for anyone who enjoyed these two films, please watch 2 Days in Paris (2007), written and directed by Julie Delpy, who also stars in the film.