If you’ve never heard of Richard Linklater’s ‘Before’ trilogy… ahem, before this article, let me give you my often-used anecdotal soundbite. They are the Lord of the Rings of the Romantic Comedy genre. The immortal praise I bestow upon this triumvirate of moving picture majesty will only be understood only if you embark on the great journey, young Frodo.
However, I’m about to put my cards down on the table. The sequel and Malcolm in the middle of the franchise is my favourite, and I’m here to explain why. Before Sunrise set the scene, you see. Two people who don’t know each other decide to spontaneously get off of a train at a random stop and explore a city, inevitably incurring the most idyllic, romantic and stimulating evening of their lives. The first movie is the highlight reel, and it’s a gorgeous exploration of human intimacy, but this is also a core reason why the middle child supersedes its ancestor.
You see, Before Sunset actually unpicks the honesty of love. Whilst Before Sunrise indulges in romance and ends up a masterful unconventional rom-com, it only smatters the viewer with tension and fear that the star-crossed lover’s connection might not be as concrete as the perfect night portrayed.
In the sequel Linklater shows an appreciation for the truth and throws a number of spanners into the works, in turn wrenching his vice grip on your heartstrings even tighter. You see, love is not that simple, and we all know this. There are tribulations we all face in pursuit of the core thing necessary to our happiness. Distance, monogamy, ambition. The dynamism of the human brain presents issues, and coincidence and karma can be nefarious gargoyles that conjure missed connections or perfect strangers.
In Before Sunset we learn that the fabled and promised meetup never occurred, and our two protagonists passed like ships in the night, becoming embalmed in their jobs and inevitably, new love and family. Jesse is a successful novelist, married with a son, his magnum opus focusing on their fateful night. Celine is less tied down but still committed, a flittering activist with a long-term photojournalist boyfriend. A chance encounter lets the pair reconcile and air the disparity bubbling under the structure of their new lives, a necessary vent that lets them dwell on their rose-tinted past.
The sentiment of this concept is so gorgeous, so perfectly realized and shot against the backdrop of Paris, its many architecturally stunning rue’s and rivers providing the environment as the sun goes down on their lives as naïve lovers. 9 years and its many connections and loves lost and found can dramatically change a person, and the idea of a fateful encounter with another all those years down the line is unequivocally relatable in the hearts of all of us. Before Sunset is a melancholy masterpiece, a treatment of love so honest and palpable your heart will race in tune with its characters. Tissues at the ready.