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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 12/6/99

Before Sunrise
1995 (1999) - Castle Rock/Columbia Pictures (Warner)

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs
Before Sunrise Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B/D

Specs and Features

101 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, full frame (1.33:1), dual-sided, single-layered, Snapper case packaging, theatrical trailer, film-themed menus, scene access (25 chapters), languages: English & French (DD 2.0), subtitles: English & French, Close Captioned

"If there's any kind of magic in this world, it must be in the attempt of understanding someone... sharing something."

Have you ever looked back at your life and recalled an important moment or experience that happened just out of the blue? An experience that you realized later you needed more that you could possibly know at the time, and which ended up changing your life irrevocably? Before Sunrise tells the story of a young couple at exactly that kind of moment in their lives, who have the good fortune to be aware of it and to take advantage of it.

The films stars Ethan Hawke (Gattaca) as Jessie, an American twenty-something who has been riding the trains around Europe for three weeks, after a disastrous reunion with his girlfriend in Madrid. On his last day in Europe, he meets Celine (played by Julie Delpy), a young French girl who is returning to Paris after visiting her grandmother in Budapest. By coincidence, they strike up a conversation and end up talking for hours, discovering that they've got great chemistry together. But there's a problem - the train soon arrives in Vienna, where Jessie must get off in order to make his plane flight home the following morning. Desperate to continue talking with Celine, Jessie musters his courage and asks her to get off with him, so they can spend the day walking around the city, getting to know each other better. She agrees and what follows is a journal of their stolen time together, as they slowly and inevitably fall in love.

Directed by Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused), this film is completely charming. It's almost as if there's no script here - instead we're given the gift of watching this young couple as they share with each other their hopes and dreams, their fears and reservations, their awkward stories and personal quirks. The plot is so simple, it's refreshing. And Hawke and Delpy (seen previously in Krzysztof Kieslowski's White) really do have wonderful chemistry together on screen, making their characters seem alive and completely believable. There's a scene in chapter 8 that perfectly illustrates this, as Jessie and Celine crowd into a tiny listening booth at a used record store. As the music plays, they keep stealing little glances at each other, and naturally catch each other doing so. Both have to fight to hide their smiles. Before Sunrise gives us a series of romantic wanderings, and actually manages to capture that amazing feeling of falling in love.

This disc from Warner comes as a welcome surprise. I was pretty excited when I learned Before Sunrise was in the works for DVD, but given the poor quality of some of their other Castle Rock titles on the format (The American President comes to mind), I had to really lower my expectations, lest I be disappointed. Thankfully, it's been given a brand new, anamorphic widescreen transfer, and it looks simply wonderful. The colors are accurate, the contrast is generally very good, and the print used is in excellent condition. There's also very little unnecessary edge-enhancement or digital artifacting visible. There is occasionally not as much detail as you'd want in the darkest picture areas (in chapter 20 for example), but on the whole, the film looks great. A full frame version is provided on the other side of the disc for those who prefer it. Why you would, I don't know, but it's there.

The audio is also very good, in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo. This is no frills sound to be sure, but it's quite solid and perfectly matches the picture. As far as extras... well there aren't any to speak of beyond the film's theatrical trailer. But this is a case where I just really don't care - I'm so happy to have this film looking and sounding as good as it does on DVD, that I'll take it as is and consider myself lucky. In fact, my only complaint is a minor one - when you start this disc and cue up the main menu, if you leave it sit for more than one minute, it starts playing automatically regardless of what you do. Is this some kind of strange screen saver mode? I don't recall seeing this before on Warner DVDs, but it threw me when I went to get myself a cup of coffee, and came back to find the movie already playing. Don't care much for this feature. But again, that's picking nits.

What more can I say about Before Sunrise? It's funny, poignant, and completely engaging. This is one of those rare gems that you discover in the theaters if you're lucky, and it just sticks with you for a long time afterwards. I really love this film. Given the friendly price, this is one budget-line DVD that's well worth a spin. Don't miss it.

Bill Hunt
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