' ' Cinema Romantico: Before Sunrise, True Love Lasts A Lifetime: 1,500th Post

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Before Sunrise, True Love Lasts A Lifetime: 1,500th Post

---This is actually Post 1507. But the official 1500th post happened in the middle of Oscar week and I didn't want to interfere with my traditional countdown posts because, well, I'm weird that way. And because I specifically wanted THIS post to celebrate #1500. So we will celebrate it today. And hey, everyone, thanks for reading. Truly.---

Jerry: “And when she laughed, she’d reach out and touch my arm.”
George: “Love it when they touch the arm. Why is that?”
Jerry: “You know what? Let’s not even analyze it.”

I think it happened during the scene in the cafĂ© in which Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) are having make believe conversations on make believe phones with friends to explain why they are both in Vienna spending an entire night with someone they just met on the train. I thought, this scene, if you were to just draw it up on a cocktail napkin like a basketball play (“couple has make believe phone conversations, employing thumb and pinkie phone as telephone”), would emanate a certain saccharine ridiculousness. On screen, it does not. On screen, it is one part magical and one part poignant, effortlessly allowing Jesse and Celine to truly express the affectations of this encounter and to quietly set up the inevitable conversation we know has to come (“Are you gonna see him again?”).

I thought, why does this scene work so well? Oh, I suppose I could take my spelunking hat and burrow deep into the movie’s inner workings to understand why it and every other scene around it gracefully evokes a lifelike fairytale, but I hesitate.

My Mount Rushmore of Movies, as I have often stated, looks like this: “Last of the Mohicans”, “Million Dollar Baby”, “The Myth of Fingerprints”, “Before Sunrise.” Well, the first three I blather about all the time, much to my readers’ respective chagrins. The last one I blather about, too, but usually in the context of the second one or the forthcoming third one. I don’t particularly care to analyze the first one so much. I prefer simply to watch and let it draw me back in as it always does. Perhaps making such a confession discredits the critic. Is it not a film critic’s responsibility to critically evaluate the film he/she has seen? Indeed, it is, but in order to evaluate “Before Sunrise” we must evaluate the storyline that drives “Before Sunrise.”

To say it conventionally, “Before Sunrise” is about a Meet Cute on the eurorail and two people falling in love. But that does not do the film justice. No, it is about, to quote Celine from the film itself, about “the attempt of understanding someone, sharing something.” Even more specifically, it is about “just this little space in between.”

I dare say we have all experienced that little space in between, but only very rarely and probably in a way that is entirely ineffable. And you are in touch enough to realize it as it is happening – as Jesse and Celine are – it is probably something best left un-analyzed lest it be compromised or ruined. It seems as if a consensus has formed around “Before Sunrise” and its eventual 2004 follow-up “Before Sunset” and the consensus is that while both films were very good, the second was better.

“’Before Sunset’ is better,” wrote the esteemed Roger Ebert, “perhaps because the characters are older and wiser, perhaps because they have more to lose (or win).” David Denby of The New Yorker shared this sentiment, writing that “it goes deeper—it’s more emotional and direct, with intimations of sharp disappointment and unhappiness.” To their points, they are both correct, lives merely become more complicated with age and those complications lend the sequel a dramatic subtext its predecessor could not possess.

But, I propose that perhaps it is even more difficult to create a film where the stakes, as they call them, are not as high and less relevant, where the only complication is an airplane flight. Maybe “Before Sunset” is a better movie, but maybe “Before Sunrise” is still a greater achievement, and maybe “Before Sunrise” still means more to me because it captures something that no one’s words (except those of Jesse and Celine as they live it) can adequately express.

It is a film about “just this little space in between” and as anyone who has searched for that space (and found it, however fleetingly) knows, it is impervious to analysis.


Andrew K. said...

Considering my legitimate love descending into potential faboyishness for Ethan Hawke how weird is it that I've not seen any of these films?

Don't worry, I'm getting on it soon enough.

Happy 1500th.

Derek Armstrong said...

*Is* it the consensus that Sunset is better? I like Sunrise leagues better. I'm willing to admit that's because I was in an emotionally precarious place when Sunset came out in 2004, and while that can make you gravitate more toward a movie like this (see Eternal Sunshine a couple months earlier), in this case it just left me feeling sad, and not good sad. Maybe I should revisit it now that I'm not so emotionally precarious (I met my future wife at the end of 2004), as well as in order to prepare for Midnight.

Yes, congrats on the milestone. I love celebrating milestones on my blog. I also love having something useful to write about, which I hope will begin happening again soon.

Nick Prigge said...

Andrew: You haven't SEEN these films?! I don't want to be that guy expressing outrage but...they seem so up your alley. You're a romantic, a Hawke fanboy, you like literate talk. I think you'll highly enjoy them.

Vance: I really feel like the consensus is that it's better. Not just in selected critics or in the fact that it made so many year-end top 10 lists and the original didn't, but even out here in the blogosphere when it's mentioned in passing I feel like that's the way it leans. I wrote something over on Anomalous Material last year about both films and the comments made it sound that way. Not that anyone is saying the original isn't good, mind you....but who knows? This is all rather unscientific.

You will have things to write again soon. But, you know, building a fence takes time. Believe me, I couldn't build a fence. I was impressed.

Derek Armstrong said...

I'd posit that the reason Before Sunset made top 10 lists and Before Sunrise didn't is because Sunrise was a cult film, the appreciation of which had to build over time. By the time Sunset came out, everyone wanted to pretend they had "always been fans" of the original, and may have given the love to Sunset that they couldn't or didn't have the foresight to give Sunrise at the time.

Or maybe I'm just trying to figure out a way to justify my own viewpoint.

Nick Prigge said...

That's a good point. Sunrise was definitely a cult film and so it's probably not fair to look at it from that sort of what-the-critic-said-when perspective. Heck, I didn't see Sunrise until very early '98.

And I don't really want to make it seem as if I'm pitting the films in some sort of which one is better derby because that's unfair and they really should be judged as much as a whole piece. I guess what interests me most, though, is that thought that because a film is deeper it automatically makes it "better". You know? They are both rich, just in different ways.