#CriterionMonth Before Sunrise and the Complex Simplicity of Human Connection

Criterion Month is a massive collaboration across 5 websites in honor of Ingmar Bergman’s 100th birthday and of the films of the Criterion Collection. We hope the celebration of this incredible director -and these classic films – inspire others to find new cinema they love and share their discoveries with others

It’s like our time together is just ours. It’s our own creation.”– Céline

Jesse and Céline are two fictitious people that, to this day, remain very close to my heart. Brought to life by the perfect pairing of Ethan Hawke and French actress Julie Delpy, the two meet on a train to Vienna and form a connection in comparing the books they’re reading. After what embodies the epitome of a meet-cute, Jesse convinces Céline to spend the day with him in Vienna before his flight the next morning. It’s an elegant and simple story of two perfect strangers who find an immense connection in just a day.

Before Sunrise is often described as a very ‘talky’ film, and it’s true in the fact that the entirety of its 100-minute runtime is just two people spending a day together; no dramatic conflict, no big set pieces, just a singular growing relationship. As Céline states: “If there’s any kind of magic in this world, it must be in the attempt of understanding someone”, and Richard Linklater’s sharp and precise script explores just that. Both the leads, and Linklater, have often touched upon their collaborative process. The three grew the characters together and, essentially, Hawke and Delpy were able to give such convincing performances because they were speaking their own words. The trust the director had in his actors is a testament to how truly great work comes from collaboration, not just one person with an idea.

Floppy hair and burgundy turtleneck in tow, Ethan Hawke’s Jesse embodies the intelligent, bordering on arrogant, American dreamboat of the 90s. Face to face with Delpy’s waif-like, worldly, and well-read Parisian, the two have sublime chemistry. Around halfway through the film, the pair stumble upon a poster for a local exhibition. Céline explains how interesting she finds the artist’s work; “I love the way the people seem to be dissolving into the background… it’s like the environments are stronger than the people.” She simply oozes an understanding of everything; he stares at the poster as though willing himself to match her intelligence, but just ends up in awe of her.

Conversations like this are the driving force of Before Sunrise. The common structure of film narrative is dialogue that acts in service to a plot; here the roles are reversed, and the plot serves the dialogue. Jesse and Céline take the lead and direct their own story through how they talk to each other and what about. In spite of this, one of the most impactful and remembered scenes has no dialogue at all. After exploring a record store together, they step into a listening booth and play a folk single. Then they just listen, for a little over two minutes, stealing glances when the other isn’t looking. Both know that they are being watched, and the glint of a smile is visible on both their faces. Something is happening here; something both frustratingly complicated and wonderfully simple. It can be called many things, but only the two of them know what that is, and that’s kind of amazing.

The film is an examination of the first stage of a life in love, and Jesse and Céline’s brief encounter is destined to come to an end. They’re aware of this, remarking how it’s almost like they’re in a bubble or a parallel world. The couple part ways after conversing over everything life brings: love, happiness, work, death, fear of death, you name it. They haven’t the time, nor patience, for small talk, and perhaps that’s what the rest of us need. I came away from this film thinking about the big things; how I should read more, explore more, or just hop on a train and take a trip alone. Maybe I could meet my own Jesse or Céline, people whose worlds are entirely different within a space that we all share. Step into a listening booth and do just that; listen. With Jesse, Céline, and Before Sunrise, Richard Linklater gave me a lesson in what love could be.


You can view The Before Trilogy on Criterion here.


By Millicent Thomas

Millicent Thomas is a proud Mancunian who will be studying film at Bath School of Art & Design from September 2018. Hobbies include theatre, museums and waiting for Charles Xavier to show up and tell her she’s the world’s most powerful mutant. Her favourite films include Whiplash, Her, Logan and Short Term 12. You can follow her on Instagram at @millicentathomas and twitter at @millicentonfilm

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