The befores and afters of Richard Linklater’s ‘Before Sunrise’

Before we get into anything else, we should watch the trailer for this wonderful film from 1995.

Let’s start with the trailer. Why would you call this thing a trailer when the verb ‘trail’ relates to things that are left behind afterwards and we see trailers before we choose whether or not to watch the film. You’ve seen Humphrey Bogart as a detective trailing a suspect, ambitious politician Tommy Carcetti trailing in the polls in ace TV series ‘The Wire’, a trail of blood in CSI and so on. So the word refers to something that happened previously or can be found behind something or someone else – a before, not an after.

The thing is that promotional film trailers used to be shown at the cinema after the film, hence their name. Understandably, fewer people were going to watch them once they’d seen what they came and paid for so, with their name unchanged, it was decided that trailers should be shown before the film.

Trailers themselves have undergone quite a change due to the ‘spoiler sensitive’ times that we’re now living in. If you watch any film from the past, assuming it’s OK with you if we call the 20th century the past, you’ll see they give away (phrasal verb = reveal ) much more of the plot than they would now.

But hey, let’s talk about Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke and their amazing performances as Céline and Jesse. My favourite scene from the film, in a film where dialogue is everything, is the one where Céline and Jesse have imaginary phone calls with friends, in which they feel they can speak honestly about what’s happening to them on that night in Vienna.

Before now, we had phones that we used to actually talk to each other. These are different times. I hope the imaginary telephone never goes out of style though.

My favourite moment from my favourite scene is when Jesse asks the imaginary phone call friend if he and Céline are going to see each other again. For me, it’s the moment around which everything else revolves.

So spoiler alert! Don’t watch this if you haven’t seen the film before now. And if you haven’t, then what the hell have you been doing for the last 27 years?

One of the most charming things about ‘Before Sunrise’, as we see it now, is how it belongs to a kind of ‘before and after’ time. If Céline and Jesse had met, say, ten years later, then they’d probably have just exchanged mobile phone numbers and all the drama and romance of their story as it unfolds in this and the other two films would’ve been lost on us.

The soundtrack features Kath Bloom’s song ‘Come Here’. In a wonderfully awkward scene from the film, we see our two protagonists trying to avoid eye-contact as they share a tiny space in a record shop and listen to the song that seems to express everything they’re thinking. As you know, what’s awkward is uncomfortable, inconvenient…not a good thing. But the awkwardness we see here, and we might almost feel we’re part of as we watch, is unquestionably sublime.

There’s another great ‘before and after’ thing here. In the nineteen-seventies, Kath Bloom enjoyed not much success at all despite the evident quality of her folk recordings. Richard Linklater’s discovery of her music and its subsequent inclusion in the film inspired her to return to the musical career she’d been forced to give up just to get by and bring up her kids. (An explosion of phrasal verbs there, meaning ‘stop doing’, ‘have enough to survive’ and ‘teach children how to behave and what’s right and wrong’) And I suppose it also meant she earned loads of money from the song. Yay!

So what’s not to like about ‘Before Sunrise’? One of the greatest films of the nineties, I’d say.

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