When Luca Guadagnino revealed his plans to release a sequel to Call Me By Your Name that would become part of a possibly decades-spanning series, the comparisons to Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy (of which Before Sunrise is the first chapter) were inevitable. Yet that sense of scope isn’t the only element that unites the two acclaimed dramas.
A recent video by Tom van der Linden of Like Stories of Old explains that both films can be characterized as “dreamlike romances.” Indeed, the Vienna of Before Sunrise and the countryside only vaguely described as “somewhere in northern Italy” circa 1983 of Call Me By Your Name are both idyllic, almost liminal spaces that seem to exist outside the boundaries of regular life. Like Cinderella’s ball, the near-magical quality of these settings also makes it seemingly impossible for them to last — Before Sunrise takes place over the course of a single spontaneous night, while Call Me By Your Name is confined to one sensuous and all-too-brief summer. Yet for the lovers that enter these “dream-worlds,” this heightened sense of urgency is what activates their connection.
Furthermore, every aspect of the dream-world seems specifically constructed to draw its inhabitants closer together. Encounters like Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse’s (Ethan Hawke’s) visit to the graveyard and Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and Oliver’s discovery of a drowned antique statue all seem charged with a deeper sense of ritual. Even smaller instances of fortune and/or kindness are no less serendipitous — such as when a bartender gives a bottle of wine to the broke Celine and Jesse, or when an woman hands drinks of water to the thirsty Elio and Oliver. “Moments like these may seem inconsequential,” van der Linden observes, “but again, they all contribute to a world that is uncynical and uncorrupted — one that wants the characters to be together.”
These “dreamlike romances” are also clearly dramatic and yet never limited by definite external antagonists (e.g. disapproving parents or a society that frowns upon their relationship). This is perhaps most significant in the case of Call Me By Your Name, which chronicles a same-sex relationship in the 1980s without even mentioning the AIDS crisis and even features a heart-wrenching speech from Elio’s supportive father (Michael Stuhlbarg). Both Before Sunrise and Call Me By Your Name are propelled by the power of sheer interior feeling, informed by both couples’ bittersweet awareness of their own circumstances — Celine has her university life in Paris to get back to, and likewise Oliver’s return to graduate school in America is a foregone conclusion.
Neither film has an uncomplicated, crowd-pleasing happy ending in which love magically triumphs over time and space to bring two people together, and yet they feel all the more affecting for it. They promise that “real love can exist in real life,” and that impermanence can never dull that kind of wonder — rather, we ought to celebrate the fleeting, brilliant luminosity of first love for what it is.
Watch the video below for a point-by-point analysis of how both films create beautifully ethereal universes.