Director Richard Linklater has always enjoyed playing with people’s expectations when it comes to storytelling and with 1995’s Before Sunrise he flipped the romantic comedy genre on its head with touching results. In the process, he also inadvertently created a time capsule that captured stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy at their most potent. All this in a film that’s more dialogue than anything else. In fact, it's this focus on dialogue that gives Before Sunrise its raw edge, lending it an air of instant relatability.
We open on an old German couple arguing on a train. Not that romantic, admittedly - but it instigates Parisian Céline (Delpy) to ultimately cross paths with Jesse (Hawke), an American tourist on a soul searching trek around Europe. The pair instantly hit it off and when Jesse arrives at his destination he impulsively convinces Céline to spend the day with him wandering around Vienna until he needs to catch his connecting train the following morning. Heading into the city, the pair spend an evening exploring Vienna’s cobbled streets and getting to the heart of what makes each other tick. However before long it becomes crystal clear that this chance encounter has quickly evolved into something much deeper than either anticipated.
In the twenty-one years since the film’s release, Linklater has produced two sequels exploring the continued development of Jesse and Céline’s fortuitous relationship. This unique level of hindsight provides the perfect framework through which to view the messages and themes of the first movie in the trilogy. At its core, Before Sunrise is a celebration of the reckless optimism of youth. From Jesse taking a gamble on inviting Céline to walk the streets of Vienna with him in the first place, to Céline actually agreeing - Before Sunrise is littered with examples of throwing caution to the wind. Even right down to its hopelessly romantic climax - there’s still a feverish optimism there that everything will work out, everything will be okay, regardless of the odds or the challenges ahead. How could it not?
It’s hard to resist.