It’s Valentine’s Day so I thought I would write about one of the most romantic movies that I’ve seen – Before Sunrise, released in 1995. The best part of the romance is that, its not candyfloss, its not filmy, there are hardly any lovey-dovey scenes, no external agents helping them realize that its love, no one advising what they should do next, in fact … there are no characters except the two main leads. All we have is two characters who are very much relatable, believable and earthy, a fantastic situation, beautiful locales and most importantly…wonderful conversations.
The first time I saw the movie, I was blown away. Most parts of the movie were shot with a steadicam and there are lots of long-takes because the entire movie is in real time, which looks so natural and gives it a new dimension and meaning. The writer/director of the movie Richard Linklater has done a brilliant job, and the two leads Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are marvelous. The acting is so effortless that it goes unnoticed. The wonderful thing about the movie is the spontaneous reaction of the two main leads and how they feed-of-each-other. They make you believe that they are having a real-time conversation. The long-shots are just incredible and the continuous chat, the plethora of topics that they cover is amazing. It must have taken so much effort to learn those lines and do it in a single take. And this brings in the honesty of the characters, how they interact, take cues from each other and they don’t let the locales or the situation disturb them a wee bit. Full credit for this should go to the creator Richard Linklater.
Jesse[Ethan Hawke] lands up in Europe[Madrid, to be precise] to meet his girlfriend only to learn that she does not like him anymore. So, its 16th June, and Jesse is on a Eurorail traveling to Vienna to take a flight back to US, the next morning. Celine[Julie Delpy] is in the same train and she is on her way to Paris, returning to her university after paying a short visit to her granny in Budapest. Amidst all the bickering going on in the train they strike a conversation starting with something as simple as where they come from. While describing himself, Jesse adds “I’m the crude, dumb, vulgar American… who doesn’t speak other languages, who has no culture. But I tried”.
They go on to share their life and ideas. Jesse talks about this reality tv show that he would like to broadcast where people are just doing their routine stuff and they relay it live. And Celine speaks about how her parents have always asked her to focus on career. When she desired to ‘write’ as a career option, they would say ‘journalist’; and when she mentioned opening a shelter for cats they would say ‘veterinarian’. They would turn all her fantasy ideas into salaried occupation. Anyways, when Vienna arrives and Jesse is about to get-off the train he suggests Celine that she accompany him. Basically, he feels a strong connect with her and he wishes to continue the interesting conversation that they were having, so he suggests that they roam the streets of Vienna together. He says “Jump ahead 10, 20 years, okay? And you’re married. Only your marriage doesn’t have that same energy it used to have. You start to blame your husband. You think about all those guys you’ve met in your life…and what might’ve happened if you’d picked up with one of them. I’m one of those guys. That’s me”.
You wont believe that the above line was translated in Hindi and Saif spoke the exact same words while trying to convince Preity Zinta in Salaam Namaste about giving the live-in relationship a try. What a shame, I cringed in my seat when I heard those very same words.
Anyways, getting back to Celine, she decides that she must take a chance and she gets off the train. And after more than 15 minutes of having met each other they finally exchange greetings and ask each other’s names. This is so real, such things happen all the time. We get into a conversation with people, the conversation ends and only if we find the conversation/person interesting do we ask their names. Fantastic observation, scripting and direction.
The storyline is really thin, but the screenplay is tight. The way one scene flows into the next, the transition is almost unnoticeable because the conversation that they have is really engaging. The dialogues are very well written and shows what a keen observer and a clear thinker Richard Linklater is. The talks between Jesse and Celine don’t bore you for a moment, in fact it does the opposite – it makes you wait for the next sequence, the next topic of chat, what opinions/ideas are they going to exchange next!
After getting off the Eurorail, they wander around Vienna asking each other weird questions like their first sexual feelings, about love, about what pisses them off. They have some really meaningful conversations about how they hate war mongering people and how media is controlling the thought-process of a so many people and that’s its a new form of fascism. Jesse speaks of reincarnation … “this was my thought: 50,000 years ago, there are not even a million people on the planet. 10,000 years ago, there’s, like, two million people on the planet. Now there’s between five and six billion people on the planet, right? Now, if we all have our own, like, individual, unique soul, right, where do they all come from? You know, are modern souls only a fraction of the original souls? ‘Cause if they are, that represents a 5,000 to 1 split of each soul in the last 50,000 years, which is, like, a blip in the Earth’s time. You know, so at best we’re like these tiny fractions of people, you know, walking…I mean, is that why we’re so scattered? You know, is that why we’re all so specialized?”
This was spooky, because my brother and I had a similar discussion on Bhagvad Gita. We were talking about the body-soul concept and how a soul moves from one body to another, but when the bodies suddenly multiplied…how did the souls cope-up, they disintegrated! Phew! That was one metaphysical thought and I could never have imagined such an idea creeping into a movie dialogue. Just amazing!
Later they visit a No-Name-Cemetery where all the people who had flowed down the river Danube were buried ; and because in most cases they were anonymous the cemetery came to be called so. Jesse and Celine go onto discuss relationships, couples, divorce and how kids live with it. Celine says “I know happy couples. But I think they lie to each other”; I too believe that if we become totally honest about everything, a relationship may not last.
They enter an old church where they talk about religion and atheism. Jesse tells how he feels like a 13 yr old boy inside, still waiting to grow up while Celine says that she has the burden of an old woman waiting to die. Two diametrically opposite views and the natural spontaneous reaction to the same situation and place, brilliant!
Apart from the wonderful conversations, they also meet quite a few interesting people while they are moving around like a vagabond. One of them being an enigmatic palm reader who just says nice pleasing stuff. They meet 2 guys trying to promote a play and then a street-poet who writes poems on-the-spot based on their choice of words. What a noble thought, creativity…he does not beg for money but comes up with exotic idea for occupation. Jesse and Celine choose the word milkshake[although Jesse wanted to give the word rooster-prick] and the street-poet comes up with a delusion angel poem.
I can’t start describing every conversation; the movie is filled with them. Just quoted a few of the interesting ones. In one such conversation Celine says how feminism is a concept invented by men who say ‘free your mind, free your body’ … so more men could sleep/fool around with women. They discuss male chauvinism and position of women in society. They even spoof a telephone conversation, that was really cute. At the strike of dawn, they settle down in a park and wonder why people think that relationships should last forever. They resign to the fact that they will not be able to meet again and Celine suggests that they should not sleep together because she does not want to end-up as a male fantasy of an American having met a French girl, fucked her and never seen her again. While Jesse does not want to get laid he does say that “If somebody gave me the choice right now… of to never see you again or to marry you…I would marry you”.
Without revealing what happens next, let me just say that when they split the next morning, they decide to meet at the same platform [track 9] in exactly 6 months time on 16th December [a la An Affair To Remember]. And in-between they would neither call nor write to each other.
Although the movie is about just one night, probably 15-20 hrs, it gives the warmth and feel of a really long love story. The success of the movie lies in the fact that it does not take an eternity to unfold, just two characters seem more than enough to make us re-live all the basic human emotions like love, hate, sorrow, happiness, tears, anguish, fear, anxiety, excitement etc; and the fact that you start relating to the characters and feel their pain and joy and you start hoping and wishing for the best future that they possibly can have. That’s the triumph of true love; but we are left with a shot of the train leaving the station with Jesse in it, Celine on the platform waving ‘adios’ and the viewers wondering if Jesse and Celine will ever meet again.