I was reading The Gambler’s last pages on the train. Having a phone with a short battery life does wonders for my reading habits. Two French girls sat across from me. One was pale and blond and pretty, the other doesn’t really matter. She spoke mellifluously, fortunately, since I’m trying to plug this word since I can remember. She was also reading a book. The other girl said something and the blond girl started chortling like a pig, really digging the sounds from the back of her skull through her nostrils. A pig would put a hoof in front of his snout.
No, this was not my Celine.
In Before Sunrise, Celine (Julie Delpy) is travelling back from Budapest, where she visited her grandmother. She gets annoyed by an arguing German couple – I suppose if they were Italian, she’d stay – and moves seats to avoid them. Unwittingly or not, she sits abreast Jesse (Ethan Hawke). They bond over other couples’ problems and quirks, moving their conversation to the food cart. Celine is French and, like most French girls, her accent while speaking English is a mix of sexy and adorable. Her unconventional beauty and hippy style, combine perfectly with the accent. Jesse is American. They bond some more and Jesse asks Celine to get out of the cart in Vienna where he’ll have a flight early next morning. (My train would stop in 45 minutes in the remotest village in Portugal, which would make it harder to convince my Celine to leave with me). That decision was made a few minutes before. Jesse tells a story from his childhood that makes Celine eyes twinkle. Later on we see him as a practical man, with little mystical and spiritual depth. But that moment she sees the child behind that cheesy goatee and she needs no other reason to leave that train.
There are only two characters and extras in this movie. They’re getting to know each other, so they talk talk talk, and do some walk walk walk and some ride ride ride. But they mainly talk. I’m thinking that if Woody Allen and Tarantino had a baby, if Joel Coen and Ethan Coen also had a baby, and that awesome baby and the slightly retarded hemophiliac baby met, had some drinks and then made a baby, that baby would still think there’s too much dialogue in Before Sunrise. But I don’t usually take my criticism from diaper pooping critics, so I must say it worked for me.
The couple has a connection, but it’s subtle at first. They talk about meaningful things sparingly, avoid touchy subjects for a long time. If they did I suspect they’d find some differences right away. We see them when they meet a mystic and a poet. They wouldn’t be a good fit to spend their lives together, but avoiding the meaningful, they’re perfect for a magical night. It’s during simple and true to life conversations that we see their chemistry. Kurt Vonnegut said to “enjoy the little things in life, for one day you’ll look back and realize they were big things.” Talking about love and death has its place, but not in this movie.
Their eyes, and bodies, and faces, do a lot of the talking while their mouths blurt out inconsequential things. In one scene, they’re together in a listening booth. A capsule from the past. A needle scratches a vinyl while they stand and listen to an entire song. They’re aware of each other and they childishly play with awkward looks and smiles, stares. They do it back and forward, to and fro. Shakespeare would write them as mute lovers of the English Renaissance.
Moments like this fill the movie. There are also some lackluster shots and stylistic oddities. A close-up of a little foosball man shooting still boggles me. It should have been burned in the edit room, and its ashes thrown into Mordor. They’re rare, fortunately.
The fact that this is set in Vienna is essential. So much dialogue could never work shooting against the same blank white walls, for two hours. There’s an uninterrupted shot that lasts large minutes. My eyes are impatient, my goldfish attention span wouldn’t normally tolerate this shot. But the scene is filmed inside a moving tram. Vienna unveiling in the background helps. Different settings and moving shots help to keep the film fresh. So fresh, that when the ending comes I wanted more. More of their very real interaction.
But my stop is here, and the train is leaving and Celine is gone.
Trivia: The scene in the Ferris Wheel was shot in the same cart they shot the famous scene with Orson Welles in The Third Man. [link here]
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