(Originally posted on 2/28/04)
As the Austrian countryside zooms by in an indistinct flash outside their train window, two strangers (scruffy American Ethan Hawke and dainty Frenchwoman Julie Delpy) strike up an intimate conversation in Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise. As in 2001’s Waking Life, Linklater’s preoccupation is the magic of conversation -- a notion verbalized by Delpy when she tells Hawke she believes God truly exists in the space between two people when they’re fully engaged in discussion. This sweet romance, about two travelers spending a heady day and night together in Vienna, acutely captures the free-flowing, tangential nature of passionate, gripping speech, with both actors bringing a genuine blend of heady excitement, trepidation, and hesitation to their scattershot discourse about love, relationships, human nature, and the afterlife. Yet whereas most cinematic dialogue sounds as if it’s being dutifully recited from the written page, Linklater’s partially improvised script succeeds because Hawke and Delpy actually seem to be listening intently to (and thus learning about) one another. Like Hawke’s idea for a cable access TV show -- which would document 24 hours in the life of a random person -- the film’s lackadaisical pace and lack of action make us feel as though we’re eavesdropping on Hawke and Delpy’s experiences. Before Sunrise tends to drag roughly two-thirds of the way through, with the couple’s endless talk becoming slightly stagnant and borderline pretentious, but the film remains agreeably alluring courtesy of its blithe, lively tone.