Perfect love on the night train


RICHARD LINKLATER'S Before Sunrise (15) opens with a shot of sunlit rails flickering behind a speeding train - a bright geometric grid that looks as if it has been painted by Bridget Riley. Your first thought is of Hitchcock, and Strangers on a Train, which also starts on the rails. But Hitchcock's tracks criss-crossed, tortuously meeting and separating in the manner of his wretched heroes. After Hitch, we have tended to suppose that anyone we meet on a train must have murder in mind. That is until Richard Linklater, who gives us a movie as bright and airy as Strangers on a Train is sombre and stuffy. Where Hitchcock's heroes exchanged murders, Linklater's swap memories and that strange kind of grand small-talk - about love, death, sex and the meaning of life - which is perhaps too deep to go into with anyone you've known for more than 24 hours. Within minutes we have left Hitchcock huffing in the steam era, and are clutching our ticket to a destination of sheer bliss.

David O Selznick once suggested to Graham Greene that he re-title The Third Man something catchier - like A Night in Vienna. It would fit Before Sunrise, whose plot is minimal. Two laid-back souls seeking peace from a squabbling German couple in their Eurail carriage, chat in the buffet car. After a while, he (an American played by Ethan Hawke) suggests that she (the French beauty, Julie Delpy) might help him traipse away the night, walking around Vienna, waiting for his morning connection. Such is their obvious chemistry, it appears natural rather than crazy when she accepts. Only when disembarking do they think to ask each others' names: Jesse and Celine. Vienna throws up incident - a hilarious pair of pretentious drama students, a beggar who offers verse for donations, a gypsy fortune- teller - but no "action". Linklater is too smart to stage cheap stunts to kick-start the story. He knows the greatest drama lies in the journey into character, and in love's delicate unfurling.

You begin to know the characters, then they surprise you. She is solid and pragmatic, for all her idealistic talk - an angel with clipped wings. Hawke's Jesse, with his wild ambitions, always daring more, is a deceptively intense American dreamer. But as night falls and the emotions swell, we begin to discern something more in him: a cynicism that only just stays the right side of charming. His roguish dismissal of her superstitious awe at the fortune-teller, and her idealistic notions of love, looks about to sour their relationship. And one of the joys of the film is in watching tiny clouds of doubt float across Delpy's luminously clear countenance.

Nothing in the off-beat careers of Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke has quite prepared us for their astounding performances here. Utterly natural and devastatingly charming, they capture every nuance of a script that in two hours of non-stop chat never misses a beat. There is a scene when the two listen together in a shop to a pop record (serendipitously reminiscent of the beautiful listening-booth scene in Three Colours: Red). The delineation of their responses is thrillingly precise. She is moved but too self-conscious to admit it, her eyelashes fluttering; he, slightly embarrassed but wondering whether to kiss her. This is pure cinema, and there won't be a more delightful romantic moment all year, unless it's the one later on, when the lovers imagine what the reaction back home will be. In a caf they play at calling home, and Delpy puts on the Beavis and Butthead drawl she reckons Hawke's mates might have.

The trivial never stops flirting with the profound, like the lovers with each other. The film's fluffy feel belies its intellectual rigour and scope. Among other things, the movie is a casually brilliant exploration of the nature of art. The finite time the lovers have together comes to represent the frame of a work of art, linear or temporal, which marks out meaning in the chaos of life. This couple, sealed in their private night, are artists creating their own fiction, which is the film. It is no coincidence that Linklater gives Julie Delpy the name Celine. Jacques Rivette's Celine et Julie vont en bateau (1974) is the cinema's greatest treatment of Linklater's theme.

This is the fourth feature from the 33-year-old Texan. The most widely released of the earlier three, Slacker (1991) and Dazed and Confused (1993), were sprawling ensemble pieces, amiable bordering on aimless. They suggested a generosity towards life which has come richly to fruition in Before Sunrise. The burghers of Austin, Texas, should keep a tender eye on Linklater. He may be his generation's Renoir.

The themes of Ariel Dorfman's Death and the Maiden (18) are mournfully appropriate to its director Roman Polanski's life and work: political oppression, rape and blind vengeance. Dorfman's play, set in "a country in South America [closely resembling his native Chile] ... after the fall of the dictatorship", feels like Polanski's homeland. The play is an edgy trio in the manner of Polanski's dazzling early film Knife in the Water (1962). A knock on the door of a couple of ex-dissidents (Stuart Wilson and Sigourney Weaver), one stormy night, heralds the arrival of a doctor (Ben Kingsley) who may have tortured and raped her during the dictatorship. Bent on vengeance, or at least a confession, she binds and gags him, interrogating him at gunpoint, while her husband wonders whether she has become the moral equivalent of her persecutors.

There are those who have hailed this as a return to form for Polanski. It is certainly a return to sanity after Bitter Moon. And Polanski shows some of the old lurching menace, deftly switching mood from foreboding to terror. He also draws out a fine performance from Ben Kingsley as the alleged villain, with snorting laugh, quotations from Nietzsche (always a bad sign) and a terror that reeks of guilt. But Polanski has not removed all the staginess from the stage play. What was terrifyingly hidden in Knife in the Water is here banally explicit. Lines like "But it's time for me to reclaim my Schubert", which might have had resonance in the theatre, ring hollow on film. Worse, they're delivered by Sigourney Weaver, who is unable to suggest the agony beneath her fury. When Weaver talks about receiving electric-shock treatment through a metal penis, it is the performance rather than the torture that makes you wince.

Outbreak (PG) is a vastly entertaining killer-virus thriller in the manner of The Andromeda Strain. Only this time the lethal bug has arrived not from outer space, but Africa, "hosted" by an illegally imported monkey. If not checked, it could wipe out the whole of America within days. There's only one man for the job. Enter Dustin Hoffman in low-crotch orange plastic trousers and space helmet (resembling Woody Allen in Sleeper). But Hoffman's superiors (including Donald Sutherland) are more interested in biological warfare than in developing a vaccine against the virus. They plan to "vaporise" the quarantined Californian town. Time for Hoffman's righteous indignation number: "Don't threaten me. And don't threaten my men!" And so it goes on, spiralling into ever more absurdity, but, thanks to the direction of Wolfgang Petersen, who provides one peerless helicopter chase, keeping us gripped.

Grard Depardieu sleepwalks through Le Colonel Chabert (PG) as if he had played the part before. He almost has, as this yarn of a man, believed dead in the Napoleonic wars, returning home to claim his wife (Fanny Ardant) and property has strong resemblances to The Return of Martin Guerre. It is chiefly distinguished by an impish performance from Fabrice Luchini, as the lawyer who represents both Depardieu and Ardant, and some extraordinary flashbacks to the devastation of the Russian campaign. The director, Yves Angelo (a former cinematographer) produces eerie tableaux of snow-bound cavalry charges, in which the only sounds we hear are a plaintive piano and the thud of the horses hooves, before the clang and clamour of carnage.

In the Review: Depardieu (page 18) and Kingsley (page 27) interviewed; cinema details, page 82.

Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine