The Before trilogy (Sunrise, Sunset, and Midnight) are a series of movies in which two people talk about nothing for a while and sometimes make out. Boiled down to the essence of what happens at the center of the frame, and that’s about it. The movies are all littered with great exchanges of dialogue, and each one has interludes that involve side characters to varying degrees (moreso in the most-recent Midnight, but even Sunrise has scenes involving a street poet and a fortune teller), but at their core they are two-actor plays.
They don’t play out on a blank stage, though. One of the great things about these movies (and what separate them from the very boring-sounding description in my first sentence) is how in love they are with their settings (Vienna, Paris, and Greece). The camera is never empty and never content merely to show Jesse and Celine engaged in dialogue; there is always activity, whether it’s other people strolling by a coffee shop or boats passing in the water.
Look at how much is going on visually in this scene, which would be plenty enough dramatically (considering how increasingly charged the dialogue becomes) if it happened with two characters sitting on a couch in a living room. Instead, we have a camera gently rocking back and forth with our characters, shadows playing across their faces from above, and a rushing movement from behind of words and shapes.
If you wanted to go film-school on it (not that I went to film school, but…), you could even link the backdrop to the content of the dialogue (objects rushing by, artifacts of the past just as soon as you could possibly grasp their significance, connecting to Jesse’s regret and wistfulness), but it’s enough just to say that watching these movies always feels more dynamic to me than either a two-hander play or that plus a mere travelogue. The films live and breathe to mark that the sometimes awkward, sometimes difficult conversations they hold exist within a world very much like our own, full of restless things.