What to do when you find yourself alone in perhaps the world’s most romantic city? I appeared to be the only singleton in Vienna this last week, as the rest of the thronging crowds sauntered about in glamorous couplings or gayly cooing foursomes. I’d see them staring sometimes, offering pitying smiles or consolatory shrugs. There’s only so much silent derision one can take (about half an hour apparently) so I rapidly decided to distract myself in that most obvious of fashions, tracing the landmarks from one of my favourite films.
Before Sunrise caught me completely off guard. I was attempting to increase my cinematic range I think, going through recommended lists and best ever collections when I came upon Richard Linklater’s tribute to the holiday romance, something I had recently experienced first hand (/humblebrag). It is, essentially, a series of conversations between the two leads as they slowly spend their one and only night together in Vienna (hence the title). It’s filmmaking at its most intimate: two actors, a city, a script. And what a script. Better than any other film it portrays the intensity and abruptness of these super-short relationships. You get to know someone, or at least version of that someone, so quickly that everything is magnified, the highs and the lows. You fight, make up, grow close and inevitably, you part. They are lovely, exciting, horrible things. Before Sunrise understands that in a way I haven’t seen before or since.
So, venturing far from the Maddening Crowd I grabbed my camera, tried my best to actually remember the film, and set out into Wien.
The Natural History Museum
True story, didn’t even know this place was in the film. I rewatched it on my way out of the city and was pleasantly surprised to see the two leads, Jessie and Celine, wandering aimlessly around the towering domes and flowering buttresses early in their evening. Coincidentally I spent quite a while here too, not due to the outstanding architecture of course but because, dear reader, of the contrast. As the baroque awnings towered above me the ground itself shook to the phat beats of the choicest Noughties EDM. I had apparently arrived smack bang in the Vienniesian equivalent of the Notting Hill Carnival. Trucks of semi naked ravers wheeled through the ancient laneways followed by a retinue of drunken dancers and promo folks dressed as drinks bottles, themselves trailed by an army of wee orange cleaning trucks. I stopped a moment to consider exactly what Mozart would have made of such things before getting all sweaty and moving on.
Ah the mystical gypsy, a weathered trope of fantasy films generations over. It’s deconstructed in the movie outside this charmingly hidden eatery, as one particularly egregious example gives a palm reading, Celine being all “Aw, it’s nice” and Jessie being like “Bitch please.” Undoubtedly one of the more memorable scenes as it sets up the couple’s first and (in this film) only argument. Also the gypsy has a voice like oiled velvet, and the concept that we’re made of stardust is all poetic and shit. Couldn’t get a seat outside as in the film so sat inside and had a beer. I ordered a coke, but a beer appeared. Maybe a gypsy did it with magic.
The Ferris Wheel
A minor disappointment. The couple share their first kiss here, alone in a darkened carriage high above the city. It’s silly romantic (which is again deconstructed a few minutes later). My trip differed ever so slightly, the carriage being fully strip lit and filled with German tourists, a French couple and me on my lonesome. The French thought I was with the Germans, the Germans that I was French. I kept my mouth shut and tried to appear as both, which involved looking angry and aloof at the same time.
A lovely little diversion which took me to a very pleasant, and utterly deserted, chapel. I chose the seats I thought best matched my dodgy memory of the film and sat in the quiet for a while. I like churches. I’m not at all religious, beside the occasional fist raised to the heavens in frustration (“So aloooooooone!”) but churches are lovely. Tranquil. I had a little think about all sorts of stuff in here, like why putting clothes on monkeys went out of style and if a contemporary version might be financially viable.
The MS Johann Strauss
Here’s a little secret: the conclusions Jessie and Celine reach here, that attempts to extend fleeting relations past their end are futile, that goodbyes are best done before parting? I may have repeated those verbatim. As my own thoughts. I’m not proud. Maybe a little. Still, the Strauss is completely abandoned these days, a far cry from the moonlit dinner scene full of tensions both sexual and romantic. The only sexual reference now is the fruity graffiti daubed liberally across the entrance. Note to self: look up “filching.”
Success! My subsequent rewatch revealed this was the closest I had gotten to Jessie and Celine so far, a single booth behind them, my seat occupied in the film by three Austrians dressed like the offspring of Drew Carey and Devo. Terrible photos here as the place was full of lovely couples and married people and oh god they’re looking at me like I’m insane, why is he taking photos of empty seats, should we call the waitress, Hans do something.
Another certified hit. My memory of the ending (coupled with the free wifi) meant this was a bona fide jackpot. By far the most iconic moment of the film and there I am sat on the very spot, albeit looking oddly vacant instead of romantically beguiled. At this point Jessie recites WH Auden to the lounging Celine, a poem lamenting the slow march of time as their evening together ends. I on the other hand commented to no-one in particular that the marble was warm and felt nice to sit on. Notice also the lack of glamorous women draped seductively across my lap.
As Celine makes her way to Paris, leaving fair Jessie behind she takes a moment to seat herself in a train booth and stare wistfully from the window. I took the night train from Vienna to Florence in exactly that position. Had the film followed her trek however, I doubt it would have involved her falling fitfully asleep to a Jeff Bridges album and waking to horrified looks from the other passengers at the stalactites of drool dangling from her overly bushy moustache. There we differed.
I left Vienna feeling rather pleased with myself. I’d covered most of the scenes I’d remembered and watching the film as I retreated to Florence put a lovely lid on the whole thing. In conclusion, I give Vienna 8 Jessies out of Celine and a hearty recommendation to 30-something men with a liking for films to remind them of past glories. Aw.
Song of Vienna.
I’m not doing it. No. It’s too obvious*. Instead of Midge’s complete lack of giving a fuck then, here’s the song I found myself listening to the most, which coincidentally (or not) is tied in the knotted stringball of my mind to a very similar relationship as that in Before Sunrise. It seems quite fitting, if a little sad. I hope it makes you sad too, mainly because I’m tired and have a cold. Suck it.