Directed by: Richard Linklater
Written by: Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy
The director has created a film where you forget you are watching one; you see yourself as an invisible presence in their lives, wishing the camera would linger a little longer.
Within this review I will make references to events that occurred in the previous two films. Although these films are not too reliant upon plot, film aficionados may wish to (should definitely) go and watch ‘Before Sunrise’ and then ‘Before Sunset’ first. I’m not going to examine the minutia of every word or pontificate over the meaning of every phrase, this is for you to do, or not do, whilst watching this film and thinking about it afterwards. This review will simply express my overall feelings for characters and their relationship and how they have changed over time. This is so your experience watching this film can be left untarnished by words you’ve read before.
Jesse and Celine met on a train through Europe in 1995, and then spent the night walking the streets of Vienna until sunrise. Nine years later they met again in Paris having lost none of the passion they had when they met. Now we follow the couple a further nine years later on holiday in Greece with their children at the home of an author friend of Jesse’s. The now familiar characters wrestle with the decisions they have made in their lives to be with one another, the sacrifices they have made and whether the love they first felt in Vienna is strong enough to keep them as alive as they were when first they met.
Richard Linklater’s style for the films in this series is of very long takes where the actors talk around the screenplay rather than deliver it word for word. The conversations are too natural to be completely scripted. The actors know the characters so well and know where they need to get to, they effortlessly breathe through the scenes. For example within the first 20 minutes there is a 13 minute scene with one visual cutaway half way through while the dialogue continues. Linklater mixes his single camera style used to such great effect in ‘Before Sunrise’ to provide intimacy and a sense of belonging to the scenes with intricate multi camera use in others to show when the characters are not in sync with one another.
In Jesse we see a character that is still deeply in love with a girl he met on a train in Vienna eigtheen years ago. He’s moved to France to be with her and they have started a family together but he has left a child in America with a mother he is not on good terms with. This leaves him conflicted, how can he be the dad he wants to be to his pre-adolescent son whilst being a father and partner to his family in Europe. This confliction is the basis behind the drama of Before Midnight. Celine, a highly emotional, highly intelligent and completely captivating character, can sense the torment in Jesse’s mind and feels a sense of guilt for keeping them apart. Moments of tension, where true feelings can be expressed are often diffused by humour on one side or the other but the tension still simmers. This tension becomes part of poignant scenes through the film, building as the end approaches.
The idea behind this film was to pick a typical day in the lives of Celine and Jesse where emotions are raised as Jesse’s son leaves them to return home to his mother. In one considered, carefully crafted shot about 5 minutes into the film the camera pans and the new life of Jesse & Celine is revealed. Tension builds from minute one and builds through 209 minutes. The sparks and love of ‘Before Sunrise’, mixed with the unsaid longing of ‘Before Sunset’ combine with the day to day worries of life in a committed relationship. Over eighteen years the characters have changed, they no longer have
the hopes and dreams of youth. They don’t want to lose each other so have let go of some of their more wistful romantic notions. Celine is naturally worried about whether Jesse still wants her like he once did: “If we were meeting for the first time on a train today, would you find me attractive? Would you start talking to me? Ask me to get off the train with you?” This is a further example of the loaded nature of the questions which are asked at a whim, at times which at first would seem out of the blue but in fact have been on the mind of the asker throughout. They know each other so well that when they hit out the cuts run deep; the tension of what’s left unsaid manifests like a torpedo primed for a weak-spot. Then almost as suddenly, the smiles, the jokes and intense discussions return. The fleeting looks and fun come back, albeit with an anchor slowly weighing them down.
I am a big fan of intelligent passionate conversation in films and TV. So many screenplays shy away from intelligence in what I imagine is a mistaken belief it will put off film audiences. Clever, intelligent drama portrayed by actors who have obviously spent a great deal of time crafting their characters will keep you gripped and wishing for more.
These films are in my opinion amongst the very best in romantic drama, simply because of the seemingly effortless, accurate, natural performances and intriguing interplay. Their conversations are often loaded as these highly intelligent characters know each other so well they can cut through the meaning behind the words. This can lead to arguments as words which appear one way are interpreted another. As hinted at earlier, Celine is a highly passionate character, Jesse goes further calling her “Fucking Nuts” on more than one occasion.
True passion in a relationship works both ways, when it’s good it makes your life worth living and makes the world outside the two of you fade away; when it’s bad the arguments can convincingly mimic hatred of religious proportions. A passionate moment can turn to argument on a look, a word or an action. Their feverously active brains can at times betray their best interests. The fact that watching this passion portrayed on screen is so intriguing is a true testament to Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy’s acting performances and Richard Linklater’s direction. They know these characters so well and are capable of delivering the script so brilliantly that you are utterly convinced that this is a real couple. The nine year periods between the film releases also reflect the real life time for the
characters and this only adds to this sense of an authentic relationship portrayed on screen. The director has created a film where you forget you are watching one; you see yourself as an invisible presence in their lives and feel privileged to witness it, wishing the camera would linger a little longer. I could spend another three films in their company.
Some of the supporting roles, although minor, are not fantastic but they are there to provide examples of other relationships and make the protagonists examine their own. A young couple starting out in their relationship, an established couple very open in theirs and an elderly couple who have lived and lost and can now find companionship. The couple’s two young girls are almost forgotten to the background but do act as strings that help bind them together. Jesse could be criticised for not being grateful for what he has at times, pining for a son whilst not showing his two daughters that same love. To be fair though the story takes place in under 18hrs so it would be difficult to say everything seen is reflective of holistic characters. Any fan of the previous films should be able to guess the name of one of their daughters, a subtle reference to a musical love they both shared.
The direction in which the three writers chose to take this film is brave and consistent both with the Jesse and Celine we have met previously and with how relationships amongst passionate people are affected over time. If this film was to mirror the beauty of innocence and wanting of ‘Before Sunrise’ or the intensity of their second outing then it would have been nice but ultimately disappointing. Nine years have passed since we last saw them and for them to behave the same way with one another would have seemed unlikely and unnatural. They have instead given what I see as an accurate reflection of a matured relationship where external pressures create tension as the passionate armour weakens. I love this film, even when I don’t like the direction it’s taken. Maybe my age has me somewhat closer to the wistful hopefuls seen in their first outing and therefore leaves me a little upset to see the vitriol fly but at its core the ‘Before’ series is about a wonderfully intelligent, honest and natural relationship. To ignore this in order to produce a nice saccharin film would be to betray the series and am ultimately pleased with their decisions.
Each film could have been left without a sequel as they exist as films in their own right but if Linklater, Delpy and Hawke believe they have a story to tell I would not be surprised to see Before Fifty in nine years time. I will be first in line to see it.
Review by Steve Wolstencroft