I’ve given myself two rules: 1) the songs must be performed by characters within the scene, not played on the soundtrack; and 2) the songs must begin and end during the scene.
That said, I’ve broken both of those rules with this first selection. The song is not performed by the characters, but played on a turntable while they listen, and the song fades out at the mid point. But I don’t care, because this is one of my favorite scenes in any movie, ever, and I’ll be damned if I’m not going to include it.
The film is Before Sunrise, Richard Linklater’s Gen-X romance starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy as a pair of twentysomethings who meet on a train and decide to spend a night together walking through Vienna. That’s it. There is no plot, per se, just a lot of great acting and dialogue and the experience of watching two people fall in love.
This scene comes early in the film, when Jesse and Celine are still a little shocked by their situation. They happen upon an old-school listening booth in a record shop and listen to a cut from an album Celine says she’s heard is good. Their faces say it all.
I have a theory that truly great films (and songs, for that matter) have a moment when they become truly great. It’s not that they aren’t great before that moment… it’s just that they pick the right moment to kick things into high gear and enter the stratosphere, the way a jockey and racehorse turn it on in the final stretch.
For me, this is the moment Before Sunrise becomes a truly great film.