(On DVD, November 2017) I came to Before Sunrise unusually, having first watched the middle (Before Sunset), then the end (Before Midnight) only to finish at the beginning of the Jesse and Celeste trilogy-so-far. This time, however, I knew what to expect: A time-compressed romance featuring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy at their most charming selves, having an extended conversation spanning relationships, philosophy and clever ideas. It worked well in the two latter movies and it works just as well here. This being said, I’m not sure I like Before Sunrise better than the others—it lacks the almost-real-time pacing of Before Sunset (with its masterful long shots) or the verbal pyrotechnics of Before Midnight’s most harrowing sequence. It also feels as if there are far more intrusions by third-party characters than in the other movies that focus intensely on the lead couple. But, as a first entry in the trilogy, it’s still special. Knowing how the story has unfolded afterwards, there is a profoundly ironic quality to Before Sunrise’s first scenes and dialogues, in which an old married couple argues in front of our protagonists and one of their first conversations is about jumping ahead “ten, twenty years” and being stuck in a marriage that “doesn’t have that same energy that it used to have.” But Jesse and Celeste do have the same energy here than in later movies, and it’s a delight to just sit back and hear them exchange ideas and experiences just for the sake of it. Vienna is a good backdrop for that kind of not-so-aimless wandering (one of the final sequences of the movie shows us Vienna without Jesse and Celeste, to surprisingly poignant effect) and the entire film is quietly triumphant. I passed on Before Sunrise for more than twenty years, but it’s far better than it sounds on paper. But then again, I’m far more interested in writer/director Richard Linklater’s movies than I was before as well.
(Netflix Streaming, December 2016) I am, once amazed, at writer/director Richard Linklater and what he has managed to do with Before Midnight. I shouldn’t like that film. It’s the third in a trilogy whose first film I haven’t yet seen (although I was quite taken by the second one), it’s a chatty domestic drama and its dramatic centrepiece is a terrible argument between husband and wife. It’s really not my cup of tea, but much like I was halfway smitten by Before Sunset, I’m similarly charmed by Before Midnight. It’s a dialogue-heavy film, but what dialogue! The interplay between Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke is fantastic even (especially) in the midst of their argument, and there’s a lot of wit in the way the conversations develop. The dialogue can be quotable at time (There’s a “bimbo” scene that’s an instant classic as far as I’m concerned) yet heartfelt soon afterwards. The development of the couple’s relationship over time and three films (yet in short, almost real-time bursts every time) is remarkable: in-between this trilogy and Boyhood, Linklater is carving a unique niche for himself as a filmmaker experimenting with time in ways others won’t even consider. The Greek Mediterranean scenery adds much to the film without undue effort, but the real heart of the film is in the script and the way the lead actors develop it. I’ve been taken by surprise twice by this trilogy, and I have to get my hands on Before Sunrise before long now that I think that I know what to expect.
(On DVD, September 2016) I wasn’t quite expecting to like Before Sunset. On paper, it sounds like a snooze: two ex-lovers meeting again a few years later, walking around Paris and talking about their lives. Sounds dull, right? Add to that the added complication that it’s a sequel to a film (Before Sunrise) that I haven’t yet seen and I was firmly expecting to fidget through the entire movie. Much to my surprise, though, Before Sunset quickly becomes almost hypnotically compelling. As two characters talk about the profound and the mundane, often in uninterrupted long shots showcasing Paris, we’re drawn to the movie almost as eavesdroppers, wishing them the best even though “the best” may end up breaking existing relationships with others. Writer/director Richard Linklater has become the master of unusual small-scale dramas, and Before Sunset looks like a peak in his filmography, creating sharp interest out of elements that would be dull in other hands. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are fantastic in their roles and it makes perfect sense to learn that they’ve had some input in their dialogue. Utterly charming, uncommonly mature and compelling almost from beginning to end, Before Sunset is a beautiful anomaly, and the one main lesson I take away from it is that I must now see both Before Sunrise and Before Midnight.