BEFORE SUNRISE (1995), BEFORE SUNSET (2004)
+ BEFORE MIDNIGHT (2013) directed by Richard Linklater
There’s a fundamental difference between being older and acting older. This came out strongly in Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ and is also a strong feature of the characters of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy) in the director’s consistently marvelous ‘before’ trilogy.
What makes this such a mighty cinematic achievement is the absence of what I would call Hollywood moments. You know those scenes where couples break up and make up during a freak downpour or in a public place where the emotional (melo)drama is absurdly heightened.
Hawke and Delpy are so completely in their roles that there is never the sense that we are watching stars pretending to be ordinary. There is a genuine lack of artifice which makes their love story both romantic and moving without ever being cloying or sentimental. You don’t feel manipulated into taking sides.
I suppose Before Sunrise was probably the easiest to pull off – an attractive and intelligent young couple meet on a train and a brief encounter into something more.
They walk and talk around Vienna before going their separate ways. The movie ends with a poignant homage to Antonioni’s 1952 classic L’Eclisse with a montage of the places where they have been to give a subtle emphasis of the short time they have spent together.
Linklater never conceived of this as being a story he would return to but with hindsight the chemistry between the couple was so strong that it was perhaps inevitable that he, and the actors, would wonder whatever became of Jesse and Céline.
A process of combined scriptwriting , exchanged by e-mail, led to Before Sunset 9 years later. This remains convincing but feels a little more contrived with the couple’s banter as they wander around Paris being quite Woody Allen-esque in parts.
The third (please don’t say final!) instalment finds them as an established couple with twin daughters. They remain unmarried but otherwise have all the everyday trappings and responsibilities of husband and wife.
In these three films we’ve seen how a footloose modern romance evolves into a fixed relationship with all the compromises and stresses this brings.
In Before Midnight, they are on what should be an idyllic holiday in Greece but tensions rise to the surface and as these are not definitively resolved there may yet be a sequel.
If we have to wait another 9 years, would find Jesse and Céline in their 50s. All things pass, I know, but this has been such a marvellous ride up to now I for one would be sorry to see it end.