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‘Before Sunrise’

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
January 27, 1995


Richard Linklater
Ethan Hawke;
Julie Delpy
profanity, frank discussions about sex and sexual situations

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Richard Linklater's "Before Sunrise" is about a familiar rite of passage: the pseudo-intellectual jaunt to the Continent somewhere between college and your first job. In this self-discovery vacation, American youth -- usually in its twenties and armed with genuine cultural curiosity, wet-behind-the-ears arrogance and Dad's money -- "does" Europe, as if it's a trip to an oversize amusement park.

In "Sunrise," awkward, endearing and rather grungy Ethan Hawke, sitting in a train bound for Vienna, is doing the wanderlust thing. This is his last day abroad before flying home to the States. Just before he reaches his station, though, he starts up a conversation with fellow passenger Julie Delpy, a French student returning to the Sorbonne in Paris.

They become so interested in each other, Hawke persuades her to get off at Vienna to share his final evening in Europe. Hawke has no hotel budget, so the couple wanders through the city, doing the cheap night sights, bumping into young Austrians (who, like them, are also in a permanent state of existential hanging out) and talking the night away.

Boy, do they talk the night away. Those looking for a cute 'n' snappy romance are likely to walk away disappointed. Linklater, who established himself as a chronicler of the bored and restless in the social-ensemble comedies "Slacker" and "Dazed and Confused," resumes his documentary-paced interests. The movie tags indulgently along as Hawke and Delpy get to know each other through exchanged observations, secondhand aphorisms, philosophies, gender-joustings and childhood memories.

Like an over-prolonged jazz jam, the interesting moments come and go. "Could you speak German for a change?" asks an Austrian, when the monolingual Hawke tries to converse with him in English. Later, Delpy speaks of being scared of death 24 hours a day, which is why she's on a train to Paris instead of a plane. "I can't stop thinking that way," she says. "It's exhausting."

Hawke gets most of the solos, as he smirks at fortunetellers, throws coins at belly dancers and tells Delpy about himself. After hearing that his father never really wanted him, Hawke tells her, he has always felt as if he doesn't really belong on Earth, as if he's "crashing a big party."

Linklater's movies always stay well within the worlds of their characters. This life-in-a-bubble approach worked beautifully in his first two films. But "Sunrise" feels more like an absorbing experiment than a supple success. Hawke and Delpy may be likable but, dramatically speaking, it's almost impossible to sustain audience interest in any two people over 90 minutes -- whether they're eloquent raconteurs, blond sirens or peach-fuzzy slackers. Sooner or later, it becomes clear you're sitting in on someone else's good time. And even though you may feel warmly toward the aspiring lovers, you're tempted to say: "Listen, you guys go off and have a good time. Let me know how it went."

BEFORE SUNRISE (R) -- Contains profanity, frank discussions about sex and sexual situations.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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