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Before Sunrise Film Review

Updated: Feb 14, 2023

by Mica Shriver

Richard Linklater’s 1995 film “Before Sunrise” presents a fascinating portrayal of two people falling in love at first sight.


Ethan Hawke plays Jesse, an American traveling through Europe with a plane to catch the next morning. On a train to Vienna, he meets Julie Delpy’s character, Celine, a French student returning home after visiting her grandmother. They strike up a conversation and instantly form a connection. When Jesse invites Celine to get off the train with him at Vienna to tour the city, she readily accepts his offer.


Spoilers from this part out.


Jesse and Celine are clearly compatible from the start, as they are able to easily strike up a conversation and continue it. But quickly, Celine brings the conversation to a much deeper, intellectual level, discussing her parents and her situation. This abrupt shift in the conversational tone was slightly surprising. There was no prior indication that the conversation was heading in this direction, it simply happened. However, one can see why the writers and director would have these characters start off with these deeper conversations more immediately, as it does appropriately set up the atmosphere for the movie and for the future, where even more complex conversations would be held. Though some type of normal transition that showed the conversation shifting would have made it seem more natural, it did fit as is.


Shortly after getting off the train, they start to roam around Vienna. The two get onto a bus and Jesse suggests playing a game of “ask me anything.” Jesse asks the first question and it’s a bit of a strange, unnecessary, and kind of uncomfortable question to ask. Celine did not seem bothered by the nature of the question, but it leaves the viewer with a bad taste in their mouth in regards to Jesse. It increases when Celine follows up with a less crude, more appropriate question. On another note, the scene filmed in the bus, which lasted for almost six minutes, was a single long take with no cuts. It was just them continuously talking until they got to their destination. This scene was a wonderful and crucial addition to the film, showing how effortlessly they were able to communicate.

The storyline develops in a similar way, with the two talking and gradually becoming more and more attached to each other. There was a scene in a record shop that was genuinely cute while they were listening to a record in a booth. The camera was positioned at an upward angle below the character’s heads, with just their heads and chests in the frame. When Jesse would glance at Celine, Celine would look away. When Celine looked up Jesse looked away. This carried on for about a minute. This may sound awkwardly done by just describing it, but it really communicated the development of their relationship well. They were both casual, shy, anxious, and collected all at once, and it made for a really charming and adorable scene.


While cute scenes like this appear throughout the movie that make the viewer genuinely engaged with the couple, they are balanced by Jesse continuing to deliver lines that at times are a bit insulting and slightly misogynistic. At other times in the film, their conversations were given somewhat pseudo-intellectual vibes. Fortunately, towards the last third of the film, their conversations instead started to come off as more personal and meaningful. Overall, the last act of the film, and especially the last twenty minutes, brought up the overall quality.


The ending fit the film very well. The acting from both Hawke and Delpy really pushed the conclusion to excellence. The desperation they displayed added to the frantic nature the story was aiming to achieve. Hecticly figuring out a plan to meet again, it ends on a note that was realistic, and not absurdly irrational or meaninglessly satisfying, as seems to be the trend in movies about young romance.


As far as production and editing goes, this film did a great job. The best montage scene was at the end of the film that showed different locations in Vienna that they had been to, but it was shown in the light of the new day. The camera angles were perfect too, they really well captured the two of them and helped to portray the growing connection between them on screen. The score also fit the movie, and was tonally appropriate as there was often no non-diegetic sound when Jesse and Celine conversed.


Altogether, this movie is well worth the watch if one is looking for a good romance film. A favorite by many for good reason, this film applies a more realistic falling in love story to an almost fairy-tale-like situation, making for an overall charming film. Although there are problems with it, it overall leaves one empathizing with the characters and invested in what is to happen next. “Before Sunrise” is a well made film which, for the most part, deserves the praise it receives.

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