The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

A film for us who like to listen to people talking on a train

with 37 comments

I’ve never understood the idea of silent compartments on trains. Isn’t that the most boring of places? People there are missing one of the points of travelling: to overhear other people’s conversations.

Most people say that they hate that. I’m just the opposite. I love it. Sometimes it beats going to the movies. If you only care to listen, there are some excellent pieces of drama played up right there, in front of you. It’s an exclusive performance – played only one time, with the smallest of audiences. Speaking of exclusivity!

I would go as far as to say that I even enjoy listening to phone conversations, which others generally seem to hate. I think they tickle my imagination.

When you only hear half of what’s said, you can work on your skills as a screenwriter filling out the rest. What I like most of all is how cell phones seem to have this magical impact on people’s normal sense of privacy and integrity. All of a sudden nothing is too private or sensitive to share with an audience. For someone who is hopelessly curious about the lives of other people, especially the ones of complete strangers, it’s a treat.

Equally I’ve never understood why there’s so much hating on movies with a lot of talking.

If I get it right, the general idea is that it’s better to show than to tell. The audience is supposed take in the atmosphere and study the faces and body language of the people on the screen, reading their minds rather than listening to their lines. The less people say the better. Cinematography > words, appears to be the general consensus.

But for me it’s the same thing as with the train compartments. I don’t mind listening to long conversations in a movie. On the contrary: I absolutely love it. At least as long as the writing is good, as it is in Before Sunrise, which I finally got around to see the other day.

Over and over again has this film been brought to my attention by regular blog guests. People whose judgment I trust on urged me to watch it since they knew I would like it. Finally I ran out of excuses about not having access to it when it turned out that I could buy it online for just a handful of dollars. So I watched it and it turned out that they were completely right, as so many times before.

The story in this film is simple: boy meets girl. Two strangers start to talk on a train and hook up for one night in Vienna. They fall in love, briefly, despite, or perhaps because of the fact that they might never meet again. The next day they’ll continue on their temporary interrupted journeys, heading in different directions, geographically and in their lives. This is the one and only night they’ll ever get. So they talk and talk and talk and stroll in romantic settings and kiss their way through the night until it’s time to say goodbye.

It is simple, but a movie doesn’t necessarily improve with complexity.

And of course I loved to see this couple falling in love, with equal measures of bitterness and sweetness. I loved to hear them talking about life, the universe and everything. I loved how natural and young and unspoiled they appeared, mercilessly reminding me of how middle-aged and jaded I am. For good and for bad.

It reminded me a little bit of Lost in Translation in the way it captured the magic of travelling: the accidental meetings, the sense of being on the way to a yet-to-be-determined future and the glimpses of self discovery.

Allowing some time
If I ever was to make a top ten list over my favorite romance movies I’m pretty certain that Before Sunrise would stand a good chance to appear on it.

I’ve been told that the sequel, Before Sunset, is even better and I can’t wait to find out this is true. I suspect it might resonate even more with me since the characters have grown a bit older and closer to me in age and life experiences.

But before proceeding I’ll give Before Sunrise some time to mature and sink in. The people who watched it as it came out had nine years to digest it. I should at least spend a few days with it lingering in my mind before diving into the next piece of conversation.

Before Sunrise (Richard Linklater, US, 1995) My rating: 5/5

Written by Jessica

May 22, 2012 at 1:00 am

Posted in Before Sunrise

37 Responses

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  1. This is what I think is one of the great romantic movies ever. And yet, it was topped by its sequel. A rarity in the world of film.

    Steven Flores

    May 22, 2012 at 1:39 am

    • I can’t believe I haven’t watched it until now. I hadn’t even heard of it until I entered the world of filmblogging.


      May 22, 2012 at 7:30 am

  2. You are so right Jessica. This is a marvelous movie and I love it. And the sequel is even slightly better. Don’t wait nine years to watch it!


    May 22, 2012 at 2:34 am

    • No way I’ll wait that long. I would expect to watch it within a week, depending on when I can find the time.


      May 22, 2012 at 7:29 am

  3. It is a beautiful film and I think what makes it so good is that it was both simple and believable. Sadly it’s not as likely for such a magical random encounter to happen these days with everyone plugged into their iphones/tablets/laptops.

    Bonjour Tristesse

    May 22, 2012 at 4:49 am

    • I thought about that too. And also: what happens towards the end and in the meantime until the next movie would play out quite differently in a world of FB, don’t you think?


      May 22, 2012 at 7:32 am

      • Certainly the advent of social networks makes it even more impossible for things to happen this way. It takes all the romance and mystique out of it when you can just look up everything about someone online. I guess that’s just one of the consequences of making the world a smaller place.

        Bonjour Tristesse

        May 22, 2012 at 6:31 pm

  4. This is one of those films with a great script where I don’t think the conversations are all that important. I mean, obviously they are, but the conversation topics are pretty dull, or pretty obvious in most cases. Pretty realistic that way. What makes the movie work is seeing the relationship grow through the conversations. We get moments where they are totally in sync on a topic, others where they completely disagree based on ideology, some points where their gender or personality provides a gap. And as they learn more about each other and converse with each other and agree and disagree with each other they only fall more in love. It’s really beautiful. But this method development is also the reason that my favourite scene has no dialogue at all. That would be the scene in the record store listening booth where they are looking at each other but awkwardly avoiding eye contact. So beautiful and so true to life.

    The sequel is interesting. I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a better film, but it compliments the first film perfectly and actually enhances it. The first film stands perfectly on its own. The second film doesn’t stand quite as well on its own, but together they are both the better. It’s really quite an achievement.

    Corey Atad

    May 22, 2012 at 5:33 am

    • It’s true that it’s not only the words that are said that matter. The scene in the record store is a good example. But I also think that the conversations play an important role. Imagine watching the entire film with no sound, provided that you couldn’t do lib reading. I don’t think it would work as well without the words.


      May 22, 2012 at 7:36 am

      • Oh totally. I didn’t mean the movie would be as good without the dialogue, just pointing out that the stuff they talk about is often not all that interesting on its own. The words are important not as an end to themselves (as is common in a Tarantino film, for example) but for how the character use them. How the speak to each other and what their outlooks are on life and love in relation to each other. It’s beautifully written in that so much of it is mundane but completely real and believable and romantic at the same time.

        Corey Atad

        May 22, 2012 at 8:22 am

  5. When I first saw this, I loved it to pieces. It’s an undeniably great movie. But I gotta say I much prefer Sunset, and I think you will too. I think its more profound and meaningful, as well as easier to relate to.


    May 22, 2012 at 6:45 am

  6. HAHA I am pretty much the same as you. I love the little insights into peoples lives!! Cracks me up!

    • It’s wonderful and sometimes very entertaining. Like when you hear people obviously lying in the cellphone about where they are and what they’re doing…. Also: you can’t be entirely sure of if what you’re seeing actually is authentic or not. I remember when I was in my 20s and me and some friends amused ourselves by setting up crazy scenarios on the bus, arranged and improvised discussions where we quarrelled over absurde things. It cracked us up and perhaps some of the co-passangers as well. 🙂


      May 22, 2012 at 11:34 am

  7. I’m glad you liked it after my endless poking (I guess I can now go and promote Gattaca). For me, it’s a movie to put in my top 10 of all time.

    I’ve seen it for the first time when I was about the same age as the main characters and it felt like the day that I wish I could have. Unlike Ethan Hawke however, I failed to mutter more than three sentences when meeting someone on the train.

    The best thing about the movie is that it all feels so natural and unpredictable. Most romantic movies are so predictable. Boy meets girl, they fall in love, problems arise and at the end of the movie, they live happily ever after. And they contain those phony conversations which this movie does not have. Here you have two intelligent people talking.

    Plus of course, Julie Delphy looks amazing in this movie, who wouldn’t fall in love with her?


    May 22, 2012 at 8:05 pm

    • Go ahead and remind me! Gattaca IS on my to-watch-list, that’s for sure. But I need a push once in a while. And you and I have so much in common as in taste for movies. I take all your recommendations seriously.


      May 22, 2012 at 10:28 pm

  8. I don’t take trains very often but I’d think that the silent compartments are great IF you have an awesome companion you’re traveling with. There’s nothing worse than sitting for hours in a small space next to a boring person or an obnoxious one, it’s like you’re trapped! But as in the case of Before Sunrise, time flies when you’re with the *right* person 😉

    P.S. I LOVE these original topics on your blog, I’ll be sure to visit more often!


    May 22, 2012 at 9:03 pm

    • Awww, thank you Ruth. You’re welcome to stop by whenever the time is right for you.

      To be honest it’s been ages since I did a long journey by train (speaking of +5 hours here) and watching this film reminded me of how much I miss it. Even a complete bore beside you is ok if you can watch out through the window, contemplating the landscape passing by.


      May 22, 2012 at 10:31 pm

      • Ah so true! If there’s a gorgeous scenery outside my window then that makes it bearable, ahah. I often think trains often seem so romantic in movies, there’s a certain charm about it that you don’t get from traveling on an airplane.


        May 22, 2012 at 10:40 pm

  9. So glad to see you checked out this movie. One of my all-timers. A great film.

    And as someone who rides the train every day to and from work I can totally relate to that desire to listen in on conversations. You can learn so much about complete strangers.


    May 23, 2012 at 3:44 am

    • It’s wonderful and I totally expected you to agree on that. 🙂


      May 23, 2012 at 9:17 am

  10. It’s true what you said – listening to people’s conversations on the train can sometimes prove hilarious. Listening to how a wife was talking to her husband on a trip from LA to San Diego gave me and my friends no end of entertainment for almost the entire 3 hour trip!

    Before Sunrise is an excellent film. It’s a very romantic romance film, but it’s not sappy. It’s real and got a whole lot of depth. Glad you finally saw it and hopefully you’ll see the sequel soon!


    May 23, 2012 at 11:14 am

    • I definitely will! My problem now is a combination of beautiful weather and the usual stress of this month. Don’t have as much time to watch movies as I’d like. But I hope it won’t be too long.


      May 23, 2012 at 11:34 am

      • Tell me about it. As soon as summer hits it feels like a waste being indoors in front of the TV!


        May 23, 2012 at 12:10 pm

  11. Absolutely. One of the best films about romance I’ve ever seen. Is Before Sunset better? Maybe, I’m not sure. I’m looking forward to the next one they make. I know the actors and Linklater have discussed coming back again ten years after Before Sunset so that will be coming up very soon (a couple of years maybe).


    May 23, 2012 at 11:16 am

    • I’ve heard about the idea of a third film. While being a little bit weary that it won’t live up to the first two movies, I think it’s a wonderful idea.


      May 23, 2012 at 11:36 am

  12. Well to me travel time on the train means movie time and since that’s about an hour each day it allows me to check out a couple of movies. So no time for me to check out other people’s conversations 🙂

    Great to see you love this movie as much as I do (also gave it full marks). Just like you I waited a couple of days before seeing the next one. Hope you will like that too. Can already tell you that it is a great movie as well (although I slightly prefer the first one because of its innocence).


    May 23, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    • You watch movies on trains? The idea has never crossed my mind. But I guess you must have a good portable computer. 🙂
      I often spend journeys listening to podcasts. But once in a while I remember to unplug and do what I enjoy even more: watching the landscape, listening to the conversations taking place right next to me.


      May 24, 2012 at 12:07 am

      • Yeah, but I actually watch it on my mobile phone. You might think the screen is too small, but it looks great and as you have it pretty close to your face it doesn’t feel small. Not the perfect way to watch a movie, but if I wouldn’t do it I probably wouldn’t be able to watch as much as I do. When I’m home there not a lot of time to watch movies…


        May 24, 2012 at 8:24 am

        • Wow! You must have an awesome phone. I had figured a movie would be too large to keep in your phone. But perhaps it’s a super phone or you have access to good wireless internet.


          May 24, 2012 at 9:21 am

          • Well, it’s possible on most smartphones now. I use a Nokia N8 and the great thing about it is that it can play most formats without converting them. Before this one I watched them on a Nokia 5800.


            May 24, 2012 at 9:33 am

  13. Oh yeah, listening in on other people’s conversations is one of the hidden joys of life. When I want to university, I had to spend two hours on train each day. Often, I would close my eyes and pretend to be sleeping just to pass the time – I didn’t want to actually fall asleep, because then I might miss my stop. I’d hear so many interesting stories during these train rides.

    Glad to hear you loved the film. I really enjoyed it too the first time I saw it, but it wasn’t until I saw the sequel that this one really clicked for me. I won’t say too much since it might be to spoil things, but it was one of those rare moments where knowing what happens in a future film enriches a previous one, rather than the other way around. Both movies are very dear to me nowadays.


    May 24, 2012 at 10:47 am

    • Haha, closing your eyes, sneaky! Then people might be even more careless about what they say.


      May 24, 2012 at 9:39 pm

  14. I love listening to other people’s conversations! Very nice post. Talky scenes in movies are the best when the writing’s good! And I loved Before Sunrise! ❤


    May 25, 2012 at 10:11 pm

    • Thanks! Yeah, a lot of talking in movies can be just fine, provided that the writing is good ofc.


      May 27, 2012 at 10:32 pm

  15. It is one of those films that is just a great series of conversations to overhear. There’s really not much more to it, but it’s so well-written and engaging that it never feels placid or dull. I think Sunset is a bit misguided, at times, but I’m still a youngster, so maybe I just haven’t got into the mindset that those characters are at that point in their lives.

    • Yes, sometimes the simplest is also the greatest. Or rather: the seamingly simplest. Writing a GOOD dialogue lasting an entire film that is engaging as well as believable, without ever letting it run dull or empty is quite an achievement.


      May 29, 2012 at 10:56 pm

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