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It’s hard to believe that it was eighteen years ago when Dazed and Confused director Richard Linklater made the sleeper romance called Before Sunrise, introducing audiences to Reality Bites’s deadbeat heartthrob Ethan Hawke, and to the stunning French beauty Julie Delpy. The film was little seen by mainstream audiences, but developed a devoted cult following in the indie film community. The relatively simple story followed the brief encounter between a wondering American traveler named Jesse, and a stunning French student named Celine on a train from Budapest. After immediately forging a strong romantic connection with each other Jessie proposes an idea to Celine, that she get off on the next stop in Vienna with him to explore the city until he has to leave for America next morning.  Celine agrees to accompany him with just a few francs in their pockets between the two of them.

Upon their night out in Vienna they stroll down the cobble stone streets of old Europe, kiss on the top of the Wiener Riesenrad Ferris Wheel at sunset, and talk more openly about their past romantic love lives, as well as the usual intelligent college student hot topics such as religion, romance, and the meaning of life etc.  One of the most memorable scenes of the movie involves Jesse and Celine meeting a poet on the scenic Danube Canal who offers to write a poem for them with a word of their choice. Celine picks “milkshake”, and they are presented with a whimsical poem called Delusional Angel.  Another charming scene involves them sitting in a Viennese café staging a fake phone call with each other playing each other’s friends as they pretend to call telling them about the person they met by chance on a train. Celine says to him that she was ready to get off with him the second she meet him on the train.

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After spending the night with each other, the film hints that they indeed did hookup, as they are left with saying their teary goodbyes at the train station. They vow to meet up at the same train station six months later. Audiences at the time were left with the romantic cliffhanger of the decade. Did they in fact meet up again? These questions weren’t answered until nine years later in 2004 when the follow up film Before Sunset caught up with them.

Before Sunset catches up with Jesse in a Parisian bookshop doing a reading of his debut novel This Time about an American backpacker meeting a beautiful French girl on a train, and spending one romantic night with her. As he answers questions from the book about its possible autobiographical nature, Jesse’s eye wonders to a beautiful woman standing off to the side smiling at him. This beautiful woman is Celine who saw a notice for Jesse’s reading. The two haven’t seen or spoken to each other since their summer in Vienna.

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The film is done nearly in real time with the clock ticking almost from the seconds they say hello to each other. Jesse has a plane to catch at the airport in a little over an hour, and they make the best of their time and catch up on their lives since the failed past rendezvous meeting nine years ago.  Celine is an environmental activist living in Paris with her boyfriend who’s a war photographer.  Jesse is married to his on again off again college girlfriend, and has a four-year-old son named Hank. It’s revealed Celine’s grandmother died, and the funeral services were held on the exact date they would meet up at the train station, and she was unable to make it. Jesse sheepishly admits that he had borrowed the money from his father for a plane ticket to Vienna to meet up with her, and he was left in Vienna alone and heartbroken when she wasn’t there. Because Jesse and Celine never exchanged addresses or phone numbers, there was no way for them to contact each other.

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The next eighty minutes is the doomed bliss between the two as they reconnect again and attempt to recapture all of the time that they lost with each other since they said their goodbyes at the Vienna train station all those years ago.   One of the most memorable scenes of this film includes a boat ride on the Seine. On it they talk on the fate of their failed encounter.  Jesse is convinced that they were meant to be with each other, and how different their lives would be if they did meet up at the train station.  However, Celine is convinced that it may have been fate that they did not meet again until this moment in time. Now they can rewrite their past, and it doesn’t carry the sadness it once had.

The mood between the two becomes heated when Celine bitterly brings up in a car ride back to her apartment that the book brought up painful memories for her, and the optimistic girl she used to be.  Jesse confesses of his passionless marriage to a woman he never really loved, and the only thing in his life keeping him going is the love he has for his son.  In the memorable concluding scene in Celine’s apartment she plays him a song that she wrote on her guitar about him called “Waltz for a Night”, then concludes it by playing him her favorite Nina Simone song. Saying to Jesse doing an impression of Nina Simone, “Baby… you are gonna miss that plane.” As the rest of the scene plays out Jesse sits there with a huge smile on his face, and replies “I know” before the film’s credits role.

 

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The reason why these two films resonate with their audiences lies in the universal nature of the love story.  Everyone has that person they feel like they missed out on by not pursing, and wonder if their life could have changed if things went a little differently.  American romances are very rarely this intelligent, and devote a whole movie to connection, and romantic reflections quite like these two films. This week sees the release of the third film about these two characters called Before Midnight. In the sea of summer blockbusters of The Hangover 3, and superhero movies of Man of Steel, and Wolverine 2,  it’s good to know small movies like this find their place in the hearts of movie goers.