MOVIE REVIEW : ‘Sunrise’: The Thrill of Chance Encounters


Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are in practically every frame of “Before Sunrise,” so it’s a good thing they’re so engaging.

In the end, they never become much more than engaging, but the characters’ deeply-felt shallowness has its own youthful ardor. As Jesse and Celine, who meet on a train crossing central Europe and spend a long day and night together in Vienna before separating--she to Paris, he to America--the actors play out a string of feints and gambits and mini-seductions.

Director Richard Linklater, who co-wrote the script with Kim Krizan, understands how these two vagabonds are consumed, pleasurably, by self-consciousness. He captures the tentative thrill of chance encounters.

There’s nothing much to the movie, except for the amiability of the actors and the layers of feeling Linklater provides, but that’s just almost enough. Superficially “Before Sunrise” resembles a Sandra Dee/Tab Hunter-style vehicle--two swoony lovebirds backdropped by a beautiful city.


But Linklater is trying for a winsome, melancholy mood, with a lit-crit twist, and he throws in references to Eric Rohmer, Antonioni, “The Third Man,” and even Joyce’s “Ulysses.” (The entire film takes place in 24 hours, and the date the two agree to meet again is Bloomsday.) And yet the film never seems pretentious--maybe because it’s so attractively aware of its own pretensions.

Linklater, whose two previous films were “Slacker” and “Dazed and Confused,” is still young enough to connect up with Jesse and Celine. He follows them around as they play off each other and, after awhile, they become less exotic, more familiar to us.

Too familiar, perhaps. Celine, alluring and shaggy-maned and oblique, resembles many of the women one sees in French films (though she smiles more than most French actresses). She’s playing up her ah-sweet-mystery-of-life Frenchiness for Jesse, but she’s also a companionable cipher. That’s what turns Jesse on about her--she’s approachable and yet illusory. And Celine is attracted to Jesse’s scruffy rambunctiousness--his American-ness .

So “Before Sunrise” is, in some ways, a romantic comedy about the erotic appeal of nationality. But Linklater doesn’t provide much context for the comedy; he doesn’t really fill in the lives of Jesse and Celine, apart from their time together. There’s an unreality to their confab that is both enticing (because it rings true) and annoying (because it maroons them from their social situation).


“Before Sunrise” would be better if Linklater had been more--dare I say it?--ambitious. A filmmaker like Jean-Luc Godard in “Breathless” could show us a Frenchman and an American expatriate woman and somehow bring an entire dispossessed generation to life. Linklater opts for smaller, cozier pleasures.

“Before Sunrise” has the virtues of its limitations--it’s enjoyably minor--but Linklater is so intuitively gifted that the film looks like a classy form of slumming. It’s an attempt to make a mainstream youth movie with a bit more feeling and mysteriousness than most, and, in this, it succeeds. But what price success?

* MPAA rating: R, for some strong language . Times guidelines: It includes mild nuzzling .



‘Before Sunrise’ Ethan Hawke: Jesse Julie Delpy: Celine A Columbia release of a Castle Rock Entertainment presentation of a Detour Film production in association with Filmhaus, Vienna. Director Richard Linklater. Producer Anne Walker-McBay. Executive producer John Sloss. Screenplay by Linklater, Kim Krizan. Cinematographer Lee Daniel. Editor Sandra Adair. Production design Florian Reichmann. Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes.

* Selected theaters throughout Southern California.