Richard Linklater’s BEFORE SUNRISE at 25
This year, BEFORE SUNRISE (1995) celebrates a full twenty-five years since Jesse and Celine met on that fateful train passing through Vienna. To celebrate, AFS will be showing this classic love story, written and directed by AFS Founder and Artistic Director Richard Linklater—along with the two following films in the trilogy BEFORE SUNSET and BEFORE MIDNIGHT—this Valentine’s Day weekend.
From its relatively quiet beginning in the 90’s indie film wave, SUNRISE has become timeless for many. However, it has also grown more timely for others as the years go on, and perhaps that’s the best reason to revisit it this weekend—and why it’s an absolute must-watch for first-timers.
“Why this movie?,” you might ask. Why has it remained one of the most enduring love stories of the last quarter centuries? Is it the romance? The story? The will-they, won’t-they over one magical night in Vienna?
There’s likely no one reason. But, in honor of its anniversary, one reason stands out when looking back—it endures because it’s one of the few films of its genre and time that engages in discussion with not only itself and its characters, but also with the person watching it.
In short? It’s a film about talking that also wants to talk with you.
More than a romance, more than early mumblecore, more than “a film about nothing”, SUNRISE as a film seems to strive for one-on-one connections with those watching as much as it does with Celine and Jesse—through a constant back-and-forth on a range of subjects. Whether it’s love or loss, religion or philosophy, or cynicism and romance, the film offers a multitude of things to talk about—and is willing to bet you have something to say about it too.
And like any good conversationalist, SUNRISE leaves room for the viewer to talk as well, primarily by asking questions of the viewer throughout. For example, in the first café scene, the film seems to ask how you feel about the palm-reader. Do you agree it’s largely a con, like Jesse? Or do you see it as a romantic, slightly magical encounter as Celine does? Or are you stuck in the middle somewhere, torn when the two argue about it before being interrupted on the Danube?
These scenes structure the film much like a coffee klatsch, jumping from topic to topic, like old friends catching up as they pass the cream and sugar. It’s wonderfully organic, and makes a viewer feel like they’re there at that table. Perhaps that’s because, in a way, they are.
Yet the film rarely answers those questions itself—though Jesse and Celine certainly have their opinions. Instead, SUNRISE film puts the onus of those answers on the viewer. And that’s a rare thing. Many films simply cannot wait to tell you what they’re about, and how you should feel about it. Didacticism rules their messages, and maybe that in itself is evocative of our world today. We are commanded daily by the society we’ve built to have strong opinions and concrete beliefs in just about everything, and both nuance and ambiguity are often sacrificed in the process.
Perhaps that’s where some of the magic of SUNRISE lies, in its opposition to those ideas. Every opinion and paradigm in the film is continually challenged and collided with throughout the narrative. What’s left from that collision, at least for some, is something much more amorphous and gray. And you are encouraged to make of it what you will.
Or perhaps not. You are also welcome to take the film at face value. But then again, you are also welcome to change your mind. In the twenty-five years since its release, SUNRISE has invited viewers year after year to return and have that same conversation, again and again. To ask those same questions of themselves. To change their minds.
It’s almost a litmus test of growth, and of who you have become since your last viewing. How do you feel about the palm-reader this time? Why does that matter?
Who are you now?
That’s one of the many reasons why the film remains so evergreen and why it’s important to so many. You can enjoy it along with the rest of the BEFORE TRILOGY, or as a single show, this weekend at AFS Cinema. Tickets are available here.
Until then? “Bye”, “Goodbye”, “Au Revoir” and “Later”.