Jesse: “So listen, so here’s the deal. This is what we should do. You should get off the train with me here in Vienna, and come check out the capital.”
Your FilmInk correspondent simply couldn’t refrain from judging the people on the train car, so many of whom were distracted by iPads, reading books, or sleeping. Sleeping! How dare they!? “Look out the window and enjoy the gorgeous vistas, the rolling hills, and the picturesque postcard images that will forever be etched in your memory. Stop playing Candy Crush Saga and enjoy the friggin’ majesty!” This was my overly irritated and slightly unfair internal dialogue an hour into my journey from Amsterdam to Berlin, which was the first of what was to be a dozen train trips over five weeks through Germany, Austria, Italy, and France in July and August of 2014. Let it be known, this was also my first time in Europe.
Three hours later, I was over the rolling hills. They weren’t even rolling. Or hills. It was grass, and trees. Some of the trees were nice, I suppose. Maybe oaks. Do they have oaks in Europe? I don’t know…I’m sure that they do. I can’t really distinguish native flora, so I should stop trying. There was bound to be stunning scenery along the way, but for the long periods, the hours in between, I was in desperate need of something to pass the time. I then had a light bulb moment: before each train voyage to my destination, I would download a movie (international download rules don’t apply here, Malcolm Turnbull…you can’t touch me!) that was set in the intended destination, thus inhaling the sights of each new city through the magic of the silver screen.
There was no real rhyme or reason behind the movies that I chose. I picked The Bourne Identity for the early scenes in Prague; Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade for the boat chase through the grand canals of Venice; Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless for the black-and-white beauty of Paris; and Woody Allen’s To Rome With Love, which didn’t quite work, as the version that I watched was devoid of English subtitles, leaving me completely lost on the Roberto Benigni story arc. It is easy to drown in a sea of choices if you’re trying to lock down just one film to encapsulate a city in Europe. If you’re looking at Paris alone, the options are endless: Amelie, Last Tango In Paris, Moulin Rouge!, Belle De Jour, Holy Motors, Paris Je T’Aime, Jules And Jim, and so on and so on. But when it comes to Austria’s capital city, Vienna, there is only one film that works as a true cinematic recommendation, and that you can watch before stepping foot in this beautiful city.
2015 marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Before Sunrise, Richard Linklater’s much loved cult favourite about two young lovebirds, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), who meet on a train and proceed to meander around the historically resplendent streets of Vienna over a fourteen-hour period. Youthful, optimistic, relatable, and real, Jesse and Celine became instantly iconic emblems of young love. “After Before Sunrise, I got a lot of letters from people that said, ‘I met someone on a train in 1970…,’” Richard Linklater told FilmInk in 2004. “What I found is that people who were the same age as Celine and Jesse had the same anxieties, and though they might have had similar encounters, they were too young to think nostalgically about a lost love. The movie’s theme resonated more in retrospect. It reminded older viewers of people that they were attracted to earlier in their lives who they regret letting get away.”
Outside of being a joyfully written, funny, superbly acted, and heartwarming piece of cinema which spawned two equally outstanding sequels (2004’s Before Sunset, which was set in Paris, and 2013’s Before Midnight, which unfolded in Greece), Before Sunrise does more for the city of Vienna than any Lonely Planet or Time Out guide could ever do. “Before Richard Linklater, Vienna was the city of The Third Man to the film lovers of the English-speaking world,” wrote Dardis McNamee in The Vienna Review in 2007. “It was the romantic world of dark dealings in the glistening black-and-white of the Four-Power Occupation in the first years after WW2. Then in 1995 came Before Sunrise. In this deceptively simple romance, once again the unsung supporting lead was Vienna itself, now revealed as an easy going, quirky, and still intimate city at home in the modern era, a place where two young people can wander through fourteen hours of self-discovery along the bridges, cobbled walks, and greenways of the inner city.”
And while Before Sunrise was actually inspired by an evening that Richard Linklater spent with a young woman named Amy Lehrhaupt (whom he met during a day spent in Philadelphia while travelling from New York to Austin, Texas), the director always knew that the film (which he co-wrote with Kim Krazan) needed to be set outside the US because “when you’re travelling, you’re much more open to experiences outside your usual realm,” he told Film Threat. “I wanted a very old, very classical kind of feel,” the director told Filmmaker Magazine of why Vienna had presented itself as a possible location. And while Linklater brought over his core filmmaking team (producer, Anne Walker-McBay; director of photography, Lee Daniel; and an American first assistant director), the bulk of the production crew was actually Viennese, though largely English-speaking. The Americans adjusted quickly to the more laidback style of European shooting. “I like the European attitude,” Anne Walker-McBay told Filmmaker Magazine. “Most of the crew has a life beyond films – families to go home to, vacations to take – and it’s more relaxed.” Added Linklater: “They’re not hell bent people like in the US. They have a real respect for the intentions of a movie. All they wanted was for me to make the best movie that I could.”
The results, of course, more than speak for themselves, with Before Sunrise now a bona fide cult favourite, if not exactly a box office titan. “After the first film, no-one expected a second,” Linklater laughed to FilmInk in 2013 of his trilogy-inspiring film. “Three people on the planet wanted it! Me, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke!” Jocularity aside, there were certainly a fair few more interested parties than that. So as I reclined back to watch this film for maybe the seventeenth time on my way from Prague to Vienna – Pilsner Urquell on my left, packaged ham sandwich on my right – I knew that my unplanned three days in the city were now destined to be a Before Sunrise walking tour.
BRING ME THE HORNS OF WILMINGTON’S COW
What better place to start my cinematic escape than The Zollamtssteg Bridge, the unmissable green pedestrian and cyclist footway which is the backdrop for one of the first scenes of the film. It is here where Celine and Jesse meet snarky hipster actors who invite the tourists to one of their avant garde plays. Located in front of a Viennese Ministry building, and with the U-Bahn running directly underneath, the steel structure extends over The Wien River, which stretches 34 kilometres in total (with 15kms through the actual city), eventually flowing into The Danube Canal.
The Danube Canal is the site of a couple of filming locations, namely the scene where Jesse and Celine encounter the street poet who writes an original poem using the word “milkshake.” The banks of The Danube Canal are worth a visit for the graffiti art lining the worn walls, while in summer, the area comes to life with flea markets, deckchairs on the sand, and vibrant cafes and bars. You might also pass The MS Johann Strauss, the boat where Jesse and Celine agree that it will be their one and only night together.
THE CEMETERY OF THE NAMELESS
Cemeteries in Europe have a morbidly appealing attraction, from visiting Jim Morrison at Père Lachaise in Paris, to Karl Marx and Douglas Adams at The Highgate Cemetery in London. And while Vienna’s popular Zentralfriedhof, aka The Central Cemetery, features the popular remains of some of the world’s most famous classical musicians including Beethoven, Strauss, Schubert, and Brahms, it isn’t the most interesting.
The Friedhof Der Namenlosen, which translates to The Cemetery Of The Nameless, is a necropolis filled with cast iron black crosses of unidentified victims who drowned in The Danube River, as well as those who committed suicide and were turned away from Catholic burial. It was first built in 1840 but was destroyed by numerous floods, and was then moved to a less flood-prone area in 1900. In Before Sunrise, Celine gives a moving explanation of the cemetery when she and Jesse visit the site in the late afternoon, and she recalls the grave of a thirteen-year-old girl named Elizabeth who she visited a decade previous.
Of all the locations to visit in Before Sunrise, this is by far the most moving, but also the most difficult to get to and actually find, as it is located in the 11th district of Simmering at the Alberner Hafen, approximately 11kms east of the main city along the river (the 76A bus is the best bet). In fact, for nitpickers who like to rip apart the logistics of cinema (i.e. there is no way that John McClane survives that explosion etc), there is very little chance that Celine and Jesse could realistically have made it out to the cemetery and then back into town before nightfall. Sorry to ruin the allusion.
“ARE YOU TRYING TO SAY THAT YOU WANT TO KISS ME?”
To be young and in love. Only a few hours after meeting on the train, Jesse and Celine share their first pash at the top of The Wiener Riesenrad, a 65-metre tall ferris wheel located in the Wurstelprater amusement park in Leopoldstadt, which is north-east of the main city centre. Simply known as Prater, this slightly tacky yet incredibly nostalgic amusement park is a combination of every Royal Show and carnival that you’ve ever been to; it’s a cacophony of fried food, prize games, and kids and adults alike squealing on fast moving rides. A ride on The Wiener Riesenrad will set you back about €9. You may also recognise the ferris wheel from Carol Reed’s Orson Welles-starring aforementioned classic, The Third Man.
RING RING, RING RING
Arguably the best scene in Before Sunrise involves the phone conversations that both Celine and Jesse have with their imaginary friends, and takes place in the charming Café Sperl. Splashed with Jugendstil style, quaint booths, and an old school sensibility, this charming eatery is a perfect stop for substantial Viennese mains or a relaxed strudel and tea.
A couple of blocks south-west of Café Sperl is The Teuchtler Schallplattenhandlung, and luckily for you, being able to spell or even pronounce this place is not a requirement for entry. Recognisable from the sign out the front that reads “Alt & Neu”, this somewhat dingy music store is brimming with rows of vinyl records and CDs, and will impress even the most cynical veteran music collector. This is, of course, the spot where Celine and Jesse awkwardly listen to Kate Bloom’s “Come Here” in the listening booth.
TIME WILL HAVE ITS FANCY, BE IT TOMORROW OR TODAY
Sitting on the steps at the base of a monument erected for The Archduke Albert Of Teschen is probably the most quintessential Before Sunrise experience that you can have. It’s the indelible image of the film, with Jesse reciting a Dylan Thomas-read W.H Auden poem to Celine, who lays down, her head perched on his lap, just hours before they have to say goodbye forever. This spot is positioned in front of The Albertina Museum, which has arguably the most important graphical and drawing collections in the world, as well as impressionist and 20th century art. There is no better spot to finish your Before Sunrise tour, and, ironically, the serenity and calmness of the wee hours, meaning before sunrise, is the best time for it.
EVERYTHING WE KNOW IS STARDUST
It’s difficult to walk around Vienna and not run into recognisable locations that Richard Linklater used throughout Before Sunrise. Kleines Café is a quaint little eatery whose light green exterior was used in the scene in which our protagonists get their palms read by a fortune teller. The gardens of Palais Schwarzenberg will be recognisable as the spot where Jesse and Celine consummated their relationship. Other locations around town include the gothic Maria Am Gestade church, the cobbled streets of Mölker Bastei, Maria Theresien-Platz, and the Votivkirche church.
One of the truly wonderful things about visiting the iconic Before Sunrise locations, and the majority of film locations all across Europe, is that they remain relatively untouched. While almost two decades have passed, there is an opportunity to relive every single frame of this film in its near twenty major locations. If you’re brave enough and have access to a car or bike, you could probably do all the locations in one day, though you’d unquestionably be a little rushed. But for a more relaxed Before Sunrise experience, three days is simply perfect. That will allow you to interweave visits to the city’s top attractions, including the majesty of The Schönbrunn Palace, the collection of Greek antiquities at The Kunsthistorisches Museum, or tucking into a Wiener Schnitzel, well, anywhere. In Vienna, it’s all about taking your time, as Ethan Hawke’s Jesse himself exasperatedly expounds. “You know what drives me crazy?,” he says in Before Sunrise. “It’s all these people talking about how great technology is, and how it saves all this time. But what good is saved time if nobody uses it? If it just turns into more busy work? You never hear somebody say, ‘With the time that I’ve saved by using my word processor, I’m gonna go to a Zen monastery and hang out.’ I mean, you never hear that.”
For more information on Vienna, head to www.wien.info/en, the official online travel guide for the city. Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight are available on DVD now.