Film Review: Before Sunrise, Untours Setting: Vienna

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Before Sunrise (1995), directed by Richard Linklater, and starring a very young Ethan Hawke and Julie Delphy, is the first in a series of three films, all very well reviewed. Central to each movie is the romance between Hawke and Delphy’s characters. This, the first of these movies, is set in Vienna. Essentially, the very minimal plot goes like this: after an accidental meeting on a train and a brief conversation, Hawke’s character (a young American man at loose ends) convinces Delphy’s character (a Parisian student) to get off the train with him in Vienna and spend the short time together till the following morning when his plane takes off for the US. They spend a day and night roaming about the city, getting to know one another, and becoming romantically attached, all the while knowing that their time is limited to this one day. The story of this particular romance is told in a “stream of consciousness” manner. The director, writer and actors all very purposefully try to include the everyday and ordinary aspects of the characters, the settings, and the very process of getting to know a stranger. The tone is decidedly different – less glam – than most Hollywood romances. While the actors are both very attractive, one has a sense that one is seeing them “as is.”

Vienna is a beautiful backdrop for this film, but unlike either “A Good Year” or “Under the Tuscan Sun” (also reviewed on this blog), Vienna is a backdrop, rather than a major character.  You’ll get a nice feel for this beautiful city watching this film, but it isn’t essential to the story. This romance could have happened anywhere.

One major flaw:  It’s a very talkie movie, and the talk meanders. If that’s not your cup of tea, this movie will be a bit like fingernails on chalkboard.

One major strength:  The portrayal of the romance of the movie is more realistic than most “romantic” movies. We’re not all clever all the time. Most of us have awkward moments, when we’re getting to know someone. Most of us worry about how much of our self to reveal and what is too much, too soon. The characters in this movie are more like us than like, well, like characters in a movie. The discomfort of this movie – and we definitely felt uncomfortable at times – is a fairly good mirror of the discomfort many of us have in the new phases of a relationship.

Novel aspects:

  • The fact that this is a trilogy of films – one set in Vienna, two (Before Sunset and Before Midnight) in Paris – and the third in the trilogy came out just in 2013, makes this a story that updates itself. This matters, as the first film, Before Sunrise, feels dated (1995-ish…one reviewer called it  “a romance for slackers” and even the term ‘slackers’ is a bit dated now). You forgive it’s datedness however, in anticipation of seeing the subsequent films and the 2013 versions of these characters.
  • The director and author of this film stuck with the same two actors and the sense of improvisation in this film expanded in the subsequent films to the extent that Hawke and Delpy are actually credited, along with Linklater, as authors in the last of the films, Before Midnight. By now, one imagines, these three individuals can probably finish each other’s sentences.

Here are a few reviews we found on the great film site IMDb that we think capture the pluses and minuses of the film:



  • ”…geniune bond forming through the body language, facial expressions, and the dialogue, ooooohhh the dialogue. Every bit of it plucked right from those top ten late night conversations we’ve all had with close friends whether it was serious or in jest.”
  • “How in all that conversation, while often having no real bearing on anything critical, you can sense the nuances as these two become more fond and trusting of each other”
  • “Although nothing ever really happens, the movie never gets boring. The ending is genuinely sad without being “Titanic” or something. Even if you don’t like love stories you should watch this film!”


  • “I’ve read through a lot of other user comments about this film on here and can’t disagree with all of you more. Are you people watching the same movie as me? I must admit many of Hawke’s roles are pretty bad, while here he is pretty believable as a character, the rest of the film lacks in interest, creativity, and emotional attachment for him and Delpy. From the first 15 minutes of the film I can’t wait for it to be over as their dialog is ‘extremely’ drawn out and monotonous”
  • “Annoying frat boy hits on French girl. For 12 hours. I saw what the director was trying to do. He was trying to capture the poetry of life through long, continuous shots and mundane dialogue. He was trying to show us how wonderful the simplicity of everyday life can be. But there is nothing artistic or poetic about the shots, the dialogue or the emotion on screen. The whole thing feels like an awkward date you just cant wait to ditch.”



  • Roger Ebert gave Before Sunrise three out of four stars and described Julie Delpy as “ravishingly beautiful and, more important, warm and matter-of-fact”
  • Janet Maslin wrote in the NY Times, “Before Sunrise is as uneven as any marathon conversation might be, combining colorful, disarming insights with periodic lulls. The film maker clearly wants things this way, with both these young characters trying on ideas and attitudes as if they were new clothes”.
  • Hal Hinson, for the Washington Post wrote, “Before Sunrise is not a big movie, or one with big ideas, but it is a cut above the banal twentysomething love stories you usually see at the movies. This one, at least, treats young people as real people”.

You can rent Before Sunrise from Amazon Prime. (Sorry, it’s not on Netflix)  At $2.99,  if you are a fan of realism, or like dialogue-centered movies, or you’re a fan of Julie Delphy and/or Ethan Hawke, you’ll like this movie.  If you hate loosely-plotted movies and crave action, you’ll hate this movie.   If you are going on a Vienna Untour, it’s a super appetizer/ introduction to the city’s charms.

Have you seen “Before Sunrise?” What did you think?

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