Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy is arguably one of the finest trilogies ever crafted. It is epic and sprawling yet, at the same time, personal and intimate. The three films chart the relationship of Celine and Jesse, each film separated by nine years, in both the story and in real time.
The first film, Before Sunrise, documents the chance meeting of Jesse and Celine, two endearing, intelligent and vulnerable post-adolescents. They fall desperately in love over one night of walking and talking around Vienna, classic Linklater in its understated charm. A glorious film, bettered only by the sequel, Before Sunset.
Before Sunset re-joins Jesse and Celine nine years after they parted in Vienna. Jesse is promoting his book in Paris, a hopeful Celine watching from afar. It is revealed that Jesse has only a few hours before he must be at the airport and so, again, the pair are given only a limited amount of time with each other, making it all the more precious.
The main thing that elevates this film above the first is the growth in the characters. Both are disillusioned and lonely but a little too bruised to admit it. Their charming, youthful naiveté is almost gone, replaced with hard-won knowledge of the world and a certain amount of cynicism.
Before Sunrise is a film for the optimistic, romantic youth, Before Sunset is for those who’ve had their heart broken and packaged their dreams away on a shelf to be re-opened at a later date.
The connection between the two is much more hesitant and tentative than the first film, frustrating for the audience who understand that Jesse and Celine belong together. Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke embody their characters completely, Delpy portrays one of the great female characters on screen, Celine is complex and contradictory yet utterly entrancing. Hawke manages to deftly portray the disenfranchised, 30-something without becoming tedious or melodramatic.
Conversation topics range from sex, death, philosophy, happiness, marriage and the future. The stakes are higher in the sequel, Jesse, unhappily married with a child and Celine, in a mediocre relationship.
They realise the significance of the time they wasted after Vienna yet life isn’t as accommodating when you have adult responsibilities and familial ties. Despite being a ponderous amble of mostly dialogue this film keeps you on the edge of your seat, it’s the epitome of “will they, won’t they” and I defy anyone not to fall instantly in love with the story of Jesse and Celine.