A young man and woman meet on a train. They are attracted. They spend the night talking (and talking) while walking through a beautiful city. In the morning they head back to their respective worlds.
That, in one paragraph, is the entire plot of “Before Sunrise,” the new film by (until-now) cult director Richard Linklater. And your reaction to Linklater’s effort is likely to depend on what you expect from this artistic exercise we call a movie.
If you, like me, see Hollywood’s main problem as an insistence on overkill, then you might find yourself loving “Before Sunrise.” If simple-but-thoughtful slices of life bore you, well, read on while I try to change your mind.
Consider this for starters: Hollywood films seem to tell us that reality is never good enough. They typically try to utilize all the trappings of bated-breath melodrama.
From “Nell” to “Higher Learning,” wellmeaning projects continually are spoiled by this more-is-better attitude. More angst, more passion, more obviousness.
That last point is particularly key: Heaven help the audience forced to actually ponder what a film might mean.
Texas filmmaker Linklater doesn’t play by Hollywood’s rules. He is less interested in spoon-feeding audiences than he is in providing them a challenging representation of reality.
You’ll find no maudlin courtroom speeches in his movies, no angst-ridden scenes of mass murder. What you’ll find by contrast is comparatively tame if, to mainstream tastes at least, undeniably strange.
For example, some 90 characters stroll through his 1991 debut “Slacker,” hardly any of whom seem capable of rational thought much less action. Nearly as many show up in “Dazed and Confused,” his 1993 follow-up about high school life in a small Texas town.
Now we have “Before Sunrise,” a distinctly different product. For one thing, this is a twoperson film. There are several cameo performances, all by no-name actors. But each is merely in support of the stars, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.
Hawke, the hip young lead of “Reality Bites,” portrays Jesse. A young American aimlessly traveling through Europe on a railway pass, he is 24 hours away from his plane ride home.
Delpy, the young French star of such art films as “Voyager” and “Killing Zoe,” is Celine. A graduate student on holiday, she is on her way back to Paris when she and Jesse meet.
They do so by chance. Attempting to escape a quarreling couple, Celine moves nearer Jesse. A few shared smiles later, the two are speaking. Minutes after that, they head to the club car to continue their conversation.
And they talk. And they talk. And they talk.
What passes in “Before Sunrise” may be the most realistic representation of instant attraction ever filmed. The pure joy that these two experience just in discovering each other’s existence is infectious.
It is virtually foreordained that they will get off the train, walk through the old-world streets of Vienna, see the sights, ride the streetcars, encounter the odd person here and there, talk about their hopes, dreams and desires and, as time passes, live virtually a whole lifetime in the one, single night.
The possibility exists, of course, that more could develop. But nothing is guaranteed, and even so, Linklater and his two stars make sure that this brief meeting is complete in itself.
Hawke, whose intelligence matches his ample acting ability, has never been better. His Jesse is a little boy in a man’s body, cuddly and caring even while tossing off the occasional cynical barb. Delpy’s Celine is the mature woman in a twentysomething body, capable of understanding the difficulties of intimacy even while being pulled to it like a moth to open flame.
His top moment: The endearing way he convinces Celine to get off the train.
Hers: The fictional phone conversation she begins in which she lets Jesse know just how much she likes him.
Linklater does a delicate balancing act with his direction. He continually is in peril of making too much of this moment or that one. Yet he resists the temptation.
He allows “Before Sunrise” to unravel as straightforwardly as a San Antonio sunset.
If nothing else, give the man credit for having standards. After all, he’s giving you credit for having a brain.
MEMO: This is a sidebar that appeared with this story: “Before Sunrise” *** 1/2 Location: Newport cinemas Cast: Directed and co-written by Richard Linklater, stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy Rated PG-13
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