It’s June 1994. On a train travelling from Budapest to Paris sits Celine (Julie Delpy), a French 23 year old. She reads her book, contemplates the view out of the window and gets on with her very ordinary, very mundane journey. Or so she thinks… A few seats away sits a young American named Jesse (Ethan Hawke). Neither of them realise that their forthcoming encounter will spur the most unlikely trilogy of films, each one 9 years apart: Before Sunrise (1995), Before Sunset (2004) and, most recently, Before Midnight (2013).
Director, Richard Linklater’s trilogy, contains no obvious storyline and no significant historical context. It simply follow the lives of two lovers as they discuss relationships, love and life and slowly get to know themselves and each other. This seemingly simple pretext has kept audiences enthralled for almost two decades, intrigued by the universally relatable themes of love and loss. All three films explore the idea of the imperfect nature of love and of our impossibly high expectations towards it.
Whilst the first film can often be seen as overly-clichéd in parts, the second film transforms their oh so perfect love into something more hysterical and impossible whilst the final film shows us what can only be described as ‘true’ love. That’s to say, real love with all its flaws and low points and rare moments of magic. One of the film’s most touching moments can be found in a short, simple monologue by an elderly woman who, having recently become a widow, looks back on the life she shared with her late husband. She muses that whilst during our lifetimes we become incredibly important to a select group of individuals, in the grand scheme of things, “we’re [all] just passing through.”
Whilst those of the younger generations, or those who haven’t followed the entire trilogy from start to finish, may well find the final instalment somewhat of a let down due to its anti-hollywood feel, for Linklater fans, Before Midnight is a perfect meditation on Celine and Jesse’s progression, both as individuals and as a couple.
The beauty of Linklater’s filmmaking is in his use of extremely long takes. This imbues the script and the character’s with a naturalness which draws the audience even closer to the protagonists. It also allows the audience to take in the absolutely stunning surroundings of each film. Before Sunrise is set in Vienna, Before Sunset in Paris and Before Midnightis set in Greece. The latest film hints at an imminent move to Chicago so it’s likely that if a fourth instalment were to come about, it may well be set in the USA. (Who knows what it might be called though! Before Midday?)
It is also interesting to note that after the making of the first film, when Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke were cast at random, totally seperate from one another, they then went on to write the following two scripts in collaboration with Linklater. This perhaps lends itself to the total ease with which Delpy and Hawke bounce off each other during each film. Indeed, a large part of the trilogy’s magic takes place in the moments when we, as the audience, have to pinch ourselves to remind us that the characters on screen aren’t actually real!
One of the most touching aspects of this trilogy is that everyone can relate to the key theme that runs through each of the films; the ominous ‘one that got away’. Whilst watching Before Midnight, I noticed that Linklater himself, had dedicated his film to a woman named Amy Lehraupt. Of course, I was curious to know who this mysterious woman might be and here’s what I found out: Linklater met a young woman named Amy Lehrhaupt in a toyshop in Philadelphia just over 20 years ago. They spent the night together walking and talking and this became the premise of his three most famous films to date. The couple swapped numbers but eventually lost contact. Three years ago, Linklater discovered Lehrhaupt had died in a motorcycle accident on 9 May, 1994, not long before Celine and Jesse met…
Guaranteed, the ‘Before…’ trilogy is not for everyone, but for those whose tastes lean towards magic, nostalgia and romance in cinema, these three beautiful films are not to be missed!