Academic journal article CineAction

Little Space in Between: Preliminary Notes on before Sunrise

Academic journal article CineAction

Little Space in Between: Preliminary Notes on before Sunrise

Article excerpt

"...You know, if there's any kind of god, it wouldn't be in any of us, not you, or me, but just...this little space in between. If there's any kind of magic in this world, it must be in the attempt of understanding someone, sharing something. I know, it's almost impossible to succeed, but who cares really?

The answer must be in the attempt..."

-- Julie Delpy in Before Sunrise

I knew, the first time I saw Before Sunrise, that here was a film for which I felt not only interest or admiration but love; a film I would want to revisit repeatedly over the years; one that would join the short list of films that remain constant favourites; and one that I would ultimately want to write about, as a means at once of exploring it more systematically and of sharing my delight in it with others--of finding that "magic" in the "attempt". I believe in the possibility of a `definitive' reading of a work only in the sense that it is definitive for myself at a certain stage of my evolution, that it `defines' not the work but my own temporary sense of it, the degree of contact I have been able to achieve, as clearly and completely as I can; but I do not feel ready, with Before Sunrise, for even that limited and provisional undertaking. What follows, then, should be read as a series of loosely interconnected and often tentative probes, the beginning of a `work in progress': a preliminary attempt to define why, for me personally, this film belongs among the dozen or so that exemplify `cinema' at its finest.


`Style' is a necessary word whose meaning we all think we understand until we try to give it a precise definition; indeed, like many necessary words, it may be useful only so long as its meaning remains somewhat vague. If we restrict it to camera-style we can handle it fairly confidently, talking about long-shots or close-ups, static or moving camera, high angle or low angle, long takes or rapid editing. Yet this is never sufficient, and such an analysis, however meticulous, may become actually misleading, as well as a way of privileging some styles of filmmaking over others. It might, for example, lead one to the conclusion that the films of Leo McCarey had no style at all, or at best a style lacking all distinctiveness and distinction, whereas its great distinctiveness (McCarey at his best is always instantly recognizable) arises not from the use of the camera but from the relationship between the director and his actors. With Linklater one can indicate certain specific stylistic preferences--the fondness, for example, for long takes, both with and without camera-movement--but this will not take one very far in defining the feel of the films, one's experience in watching them, to which `style' is obviously crucial. In this wider sense (ultimately the only valid one), style will always elude precise definition. Nor is the old style/content dichotomy very helpful. It works only if one reduces `content' to something like a plot synopsis or the `action' as one might narrate it to a friend: the `content' of a film is images and sounds, and the specific nature of those images and sounds is `style'. To talk of the two as somehow distinct and separable is impossible, and the moment one begins to talk about `style' as something with an autonomous existence one also begins to misrepresent the film. This is true even of the work of directors who developed an instantly recognizable visual style, who are commonly seen as `great stylists'. To take two obvious extremes (both of whom might, I think, have had an indirect influence on Before Sunrise), the visual styles of Ozu and Ophuls are inextricably a part of the meaning of their films; and--unless, again, we define `content' as plot synopsis--the content of a film is its total meaning, which can never be finally fixed (it will change subtly for each generation, as cultural change brings new perceptions). This is not to assert that style must `express' content in the sense familiar from traditional aesthetics. …

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