Before Sunrise (1995) (R)

Love at first sight—does it exist? Is it just a dream that we all fantasize about? If only I could just meet the right person at the right time. Maybe it's because we're so fed up with our monotonous lives that we think a random meeting with a very sexy person (why sell ourselves short?) will be the answer to all our prayers.
Richard Linklater's "Before Sunrise" seems to be a very optimistic film about the possibilities of love at first least, that's what anyone who hasn't seen the movie would say.
Once inside Linklater's dream-like European world, we find that it is grounded in realism and logic, while still leaving space for fancy and whims.
Only two people are of interest in "Before Sunrise", Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy). Their meeting is coincidence, the kind of chance that people dream of.
Celine is riding a train back to Paris from Budapest where she was spending time with her grandmother. She makes the misfortune of sitting next to a very angry German couple who argue their way into a frenzy. Changing seats, she finds herself sitting next to Jesse, who has come from Madrid.
Jesse's stop is in Vienna, where he will fly back to America. An American and a resounds as something very Gene Kelly.
A semi-awkward conversation springs up between the two young people. They converse about the angry couple and then they get lunch on the train together. It's purely out of interest that they keep talking, a spark has been lit between them...though not a spark of love. They find the other person interesting and that's a great place to start.
They only have a few hours or so to talk before Jesse has to get off the train at Vienna; yet they fill that time with such intimate stories and personal ideologies that it would be very forward to any other person. But to Jesse and Celine, it's the necessary way to communicate. They're blunt and borderline rude with each other sometimes—they both juggle poeticism and pragmatism.
It's Jesse who first seems like the dreamer, he wants to spend his life finding meaning and he recounts stories of his childhood without blinking. Celine is scared of flying, but more of dying. She fears the moments in which you fall to the earth, knowing that you are going to die. The inevitable and looming face of death scares her.
Yet, she too is a dreamer. Perhaps it's her fear of death that makes her appreciate palm readers more than Jesse, who think that she is being swindled.
Enjoying Celine's company so much, Jesse is a little crushed that he has to disembark at Vienna. He has until the next morning to get to the airport and has no money—he plans to walk the streets of the city and wait for the sun.
He invites Celine to go with him, and after only a brief hesitation she grabs her bag and goes with him.
Thus begins the saga of the two lovers, told differently than any other movie I've seen.
There's passion, intelligence, beauty, but also a dread that fills the air—they both know that they will have to part when the sun rises.
At one point, a Cinderella reference is brought up—how fitting. Though they may not get turned into pumpkins, Jesse and Celine know that the hours they have with each other are magical and numbered.
It's this brief meeting with each other that allows them to share deep thoughts. They don't care about being judged, so what if they other person turns out to hate you? You only have a few hours with them.
But they share and share—soon they are falling in "love".
I hesitate to use the dreaded "l" word here...for even though the film uses the word many, many times; it's always with questions. What is love? Does love exist? etc. etc.
The film doesn't ponder the nature of love like Malick's epic "To the Wonder" does—instead, it showcases it in a somewhat "Slumdog Millionaire" fashion. Love can awaken anywhere in odd circumstances.
It's actually a cruel movie, for Jesse and Celine will have to leave each other. Though they try to be adults with rationality, their emotions get the better of them.
The movie's protagonists are both blisteringly good looking but in unconventional ways. They let their personalities seduce their partner and the viewer.
This is the kind of movie that avoids cliches so well.
It's intimate and engrossing.

Score: 4 out of 4 stars

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