Before Sunrise

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Yes, yes, we’ve all heard how amazing ‘Before Sunrise’ and its sequel ‘Before Sunrise 2’ are. But who among us has actually sat down and watched either? Not me, that’s for sure. Here’s my review of the first instalment:

Before the appearance of ‘Before Sunrise’, dialogue played a very peripheral role in the fabric of filmic storytelling. It was felt, arguably justifiably, that audiences had a natural indisposition to watching other human beings forming articulate sounds with their vocal organs. The seasoned, sticky-eyed director, John Ford summed up this universally-held tenet of cinema when he said: ‘When folks start to yappin’, I gets dirty murderous’. Elsewhere in the world, Akira Kurosawa expressed similar sentiments, albeit more misogynistically, in stating ‘Talk is cheap, like Stephen Speilberg’s wife’. Cinematic legend has it that Speilberg agreed whilst slapping his thighs, guffawing ‘yes, yes, neat simile Mr Kurosawa’, though this may be because he is a craven sycophant.

This film broke the mould. Not only was the action largely limited to two actors talking flagrantly into each other’s faces, it also rewrote the rule book, by using two characters/actors who were not, in the conventional sense, attractive, charming or intelligent. The premise was simple: a cameraman follows two mediocre heffalumps from bench to café to bus stop, as they cover a range of improvised conversational topics, including toothache, love, death, what happens after death, books that they have read or seen in shops, fate, and the popular musical Les Miserables. At the time, audiences were gripped as they observed the unprecedented spectacle of people talking for ages and ages.

In retrospect, the film seems less clever. From this vantage point, Ethan Hawke looks too much like a whiskered, snuffling mouse. So much so, in fact, that as I was watching the film, one of my bowl-headed offspring wandered into the room and shouted ‘Yay, An American Tail!,’ before realising his mistake and mock-retching with disappointment. This may seem like an irrelevant point to make – after all, Hawke cannot help the way he looks. But his tiny mammalian features date the film horribly, and will probably prevent future generations from being able to enjoy this most radical and inventive of films.

Julie Delpy is not beyond reproach either. Her acting style is too floppy, too invertebrate, too atrophied. She rarely stays in frame for more than 5 seconds before drooping out of shot like a dying sunflower. This is not entirely her fault however. The director could have employed splints or a pulley system, enabling her to deliver her copious, unending lines with the correct posture. But this is just one among the many, many films that have been ruined through bad posture: I am of course thinking of Citizen Kane, Schindler’s List, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and pretty much everything that Lars Van Trier has ever made (except The Idiots).

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