I’ve always held a special admiration for directors that take the concept of time as a factual reality. Richard Linklater for me is one of the pioneers in this field and his movie Boyhood for me is a work of love,patience and hard work. With that in mind, I really wanted to watch his Before trilogy as I do love a good love story. I was unsure whether to review them together or as a trilogy but I felt that they are all parts of the same movie, so it wouldn’t make sense to have three different posts.
The trilogy begins with Before Sunrise (1995). This charming story starts on a train travelling through Europe. On it, American Jesse (played by Ethan Hawke) meets Parisian Celine (played by Julie Delpy) and soon they are deep in conversation. Jesse then convinces Celine to get off the train in Vienna in order to keep the conversation before his morning flight back to the US. With no money for a hotel, they both wonder the streets of Vienna, getting to know each other, before their time to say good bye reaches.
The first thing you notice in this movie is how beautifully filmed it is, from the over-the-shoulder angles, to its picturesque scenes and the use of soft lighting, every scene is executed to great detail. Then there are the characters which is what sets this movie apart from most other love stories. Sex takes a step back, and the art of conversation takes center stage. Their young and modern outlook of love makes their brief but passionate encounter seem not only relatable to modern times, but it also emphasises how men and woman can find each other attractive without turning to the physical at first instance. There is a real sense of identity and intelligence and gender roles which run through these movies which is a refreshing change to the typical ‘rich-boys-rescues-poor-girl’ scenarios.
The story continues with Before Sunset (2004) which takes place 9 years after their brief encounter. This time Jesse is in Paris promoting his best seller which is based on that magical one night he shared with Celine when he sees her in the bookshop he is prmoting his book at. With only a few hours left before his plane takes off, they both wonder the streets of Paris, this time reminiscing on their young love and the regrets they both shared. Once again, it is their chemistry and ability to talk without prejudice that sets this movie apart. In this movie I also enjoyed the fact that Linklater didn’t opt to go for a ‘tacky’ Paris as seen in Midnight in Paris. His Paris is more understated, more ‘every day’ and the only real famous landmark is a 10 second snapshot of Notre Dame.
The trilogy is completed with my personal favourite, Before Midnight (2013) which is set in Greece while they are both on holidays. This also has the same structure of Jesse and Celine walking together while contemplating their lives but for me this has a more sombre tone as they are now in the 40s with children and careers and thus, the passion they once had, is no longer as palpable as it once was. The key scene for me in this movie is towards the start of the movie, when Jesse and Celine have dinner with an older couple and a younger couple and how each couple view love and relationships differently as generations pass. Another key scene is when Jesse and Celine argue in their hotel room. The rawness of their emotions and their hurt is palpable and can be related to most viewers who have been in long-term relationships.
Ethan is an amazing actor and in Before Midnight he really became his own, but the true star of the show is Julie. You can say that she plays that cliche of a French feminist, but there is a real softness and vulnerability within her which is very relatable to women today. She is able to show real emotion and anger while still being feminine figure. She also is able to delve into many of the issues which affect women today such as our identify after motherhood and how to deal with ambition in a male dominated world.
There isn’t really a critique to say about these movies, because Linklater has been able to do what many directors have failed to do: to actually show the reality of relationships, in a way that is not fancy or ‘Hollywood’ but in a pragmatic way while still keeping the viewer engaged. Needless to say, each movie is just over 1.30hrs long so they are easily watchable and can even be watched front to back on the same day as I did myself today.
A true cinematographic beauty.