25/07/2017

Before Sunrise - Talking Heads

Thoughts On: Before Sunrise (1995)

I know it has been a long time since we've delved into this series, but reprising it, hopefully bringing closer to a near future finish, shouldn't hurt too much.


A couple walk through the streets of Vienna, talking through the night util morning.


Simple and perfect, though maybe a little pretentious, Before Sunrise is a tremendous film that I love to revisit every now and then - just as much as Sunset and Midnight. And this is certainly one of those films, alongside a lot of Linklater's early pictures, that has such a powerful capacity to inspire anyone interested in film. You find the same thing with Kevin Smith's Clerks, but, just before Smith was Linklater, one of the first and brightest filmmakers to come out of the independent cinema movement of the 90s. And so it's Linklater's Slackers, Dazed And Confused and then Before Sunrise, which all of course followed each other, that we see tremendous films that serve as definitions of 90s independent cinema and that say to anyone interested in films: if you're dedicated, young and a bit of a delusional fool, you could (hopefully, maybe, possibly) make a good film.

However, the simplicity of Before Sunrise not only implies to aspiring filmmakers that cinema can be a tangible, real thing if they pursue it, but this simplicity is also at the heart of all that works with this movie. In such, the best way to define Linklater's approach in films such as Slackers and those apart of the Before Trilogy is 'character realism'. Realism, depending on who you ask, can mean various things. However, the most basic definition would imply that realism is an appeal to the reality of the world through every element of an art form, in our case, cinema. Some of the most iconic expressions of realism then came out of post-war Italy in the 40s and early 50s. However, looking at films such as La Strada, Bicycle Thieves and Rome, Open City, there doesn't seem to be a clear relationship with Before Sunrise. A lot of this has to do with context, of course. But, the heavy genre elements, the romance and focus on chance and coincidence, in Before Sunrise play against its natural acting style and use of real locations. So, whilst you could certainly argue that Before Sunrise is a realist film, I think it is best to look at it as one that attempts to conform to the reality of its characters, hence, 'character realism'.

So, it is then thanks to to Linklater, his co-writer Kim Krizan, as well as Delpy and Hawke, who not only play the characters, but where a significant part of their development, that there is such an immense sense of verisimilitude conjured as we watch Celine and Jesse walk the streets of Vienna. And it is because there seems to be no overwhelmingly obvious cinematic illusion dictating these characters' actions and thoughts that, as we are trapped with them, as they are simultaneously trapped with one another, that our narrative cage becomes a very comfortable one. One of the most profound implications of this film then reveals itself to be cinema's ability to slot an audience into a conversation; just like a great conversation can have us lost in time until we realise that it's 4 in the morning, so, seemingly so, can cinema. However, with that said, I don't think that this statement, nor the experiment that this film seems to be, is a pure one. In such, there is of course editing in this movie - it isn't a 6 hour long shot. What's more, the various locations that Celine and Jesse travel through do add hints of spectacle and attraction as an aside to the bond between the two characters. So, again, I wouldn't say that this is a purely realist film - nor would I suggest that such a thing would likely work, after all Warhol's experiments with realism represent an anti-film not worth more than 5-10 minutes of attention.

The true beauty of Linklater's character realism then lies in its non-realist attributes. In such, what really makes Before Sunrise work is the fact that it is 'a film by Richard Linklater'. And whilst there is a debate to be had on the idea of an auteur as the singular voice of a film, there is a recognisable tone and measure to Before Sunrise that can be found in the rest of the Before Trilogy, Slackers, Dazed and Confused, Waking Life as well as elements of Boyhood, Everybody Wants Some and School Of Rock. And what binds these films is, of course, Linklater. So, when we return to the voice of Before Sunrise, we find this to be the fourth-wall-breaking, non-realist glue that makes this film so tremendous. In such, much like with the films of Tarantino, there is a sense that Linklater is unambiguously talking to us through a veneer of cinema. What then defines the character realism in Before Sunrise is the fact that, though these characters seem individual and real, they also seem to be talking through the same mouth; what we may consider to be Linklater's. Again, I certainly think this can be disputed because of the highly collaborative nature of this film, but, it certainly feels like a writer (whether that be an individual or a collective term) is talking to us as opposed to two constructed people.

Returning to the idea that Linklater's early films are especially inspirational to aspiring filmmakers, I think the writer's voice that oversees these films has a lot to do with it. In such, art is often a selfish means of self-expression, or, as is suggested in this narrative, attracting love. To see and experience what seems like one man's voice and vision is what implies that anyone can make a film. (After all, all they need is themselves - and they're often available and at hand). However, there is more to this ominous and pervading writer's voice that seemingly appeals to audiences without aspirations in film. It is the presence of a familiar and welcome voice, one that unites characters, debates with itself, argues with itself and falls in love with itself, that lies as the heart of Before Sunrise, and, arguably, the indie film in general.

This is an idea that is, indirectly or not, commented upon in this narrative with the scene in which Celine and Jesse discuss people being 'sick with themselves'. People need escapism and entertainment not only to free themselves from their mundane reality, but their conscious shadow that they cannot seem to shake loose. And so it is film, T.V, books, theatre, music and other various forms of entertainment that distract our shadow, our unconsciousness and sense of self, and allow us, or at least what is left of us, to exist in another realm of consciousness. And in such, unlike what Jesse suggests, it then seems that we all often visit places that we've never travelled to, greet people we've never met and experience what we've never felt. After all, Before Sunrise is a perfect projection of this idea; we experience an implication of love, human bonds and attraction, all without getting on a train to Vienna.

The relation of this unconscious travel to a clear presence of a writer throughout a film like Before Sunrise concerns the manner in which cinema has us socialise. Just like there is a communal experience at the heart of going to a cinema and sitting in a pitch room to stare at a screen with a few dozen, maybe hundred, other people, so is there a communal experience in ingesting a film. In such, the experience of a story can be defined by an audience member and the storyteller; the content of the story can be considered latent and abstract. This is why hearing a writer's voice and feeling their presence through what are supposed to be individual characters lies at the heart of films such as Before Sunrise; the connection is not so much to an abstract idea of a character or characters, but to the storyteller. It's this idea that begins to express the ingenious, even profound, nature of Before Sunrise. This film isn't so much about realism and simplicity, but cinema acting as a voice for a filmmaker and a window of communication for an audience - all through the facade of character realism.

So, Before Sunrise is a very interesting film, one that has layers of realism and verisimilitude blending with fantasy, contrivance and disillusionment. I think this is what it manages so well, and so is the reason why it is such a tremendous film. To then end, I'll turn to you. Have you seen Before Sunrise? What are your thoughts on all we've covered today?

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