The ‘Before’ Trilogy – Review

Rating: 15
Cast: Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy
Directed by Richard Linklater
Written by Richard Linklater, Kim Krizan, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy
Length: 290mins

In 1995, director Richard Linklater released ‘Before Sunrise,’ an elegant portrait of two travellers who just happened to meet on a train headed towards Vienna. Though he may not have known it at the time, Linklater had begun what would develop into one of the most fondly-remembered film trilogies of all time. 2004 brought the release of ‘Before Sunset,’ and 2013 concluded the series with the ‘Before Midnight.’ Whilst these films could easily be written off on the surface as typical rom-coms that dance through romantic locations, they actually work as one of the strongest cases for minimalist cinema, where dialogue and character lead the story to create an atmosphere that perfectly encapsulates the relationships and locations of what is displayed on screen.

In the opening film, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) strikes up a conversation with Céline (Julie Delpy), just some girl on a train. With Céline a student who’s headed back to Paris, and Jesse an American with a flight home the next morning, it seems that their surprisingly intricate connection seems doomed, but after Jesse suggests that Céline instead gets off at his stop so that they can wander the streets of Vienna together, the audience gets a second chance at watching their relationship develop. Played out in a series of extended long takes, the audience may not realise but they’re actually beginning a journey into the first stage of a relationship that will be revisited as both Jesse and Céline grow older and move forward with their lives.

The magic of this trilogy comes from these aforementioned long takes, where the conversation between the leads is able to develop without any unnatural distractions from the editing department. The glorious European settings that ground all three films is explored as a result of the way the film is shot, without feeling like it takes anything away from a relationship that you soon become invested in. By locating his story in a part of the world that many of us may have only fleeting memories of, or none at all, the beauty of the background further develops the fantastical elements of the story.

Of course, in a story where the only recurring characters are the two leads, it’s important that they have a strong connection. In this case, the performances by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are what makes this trilogy. Hawke’s stereotypical American attitudes coincide perfectly with the French cynicism that Delpy brings to the screen. As they weave from one subject to the next whilst also wondering the moonlit streets of Vienna, Paris, or Greece, the leads somehow manage to avoid making any moment of their conversation from becoming pretentious or self-obsessed. Instead, these feel like moments that the audience wish to be a part of.

Whilst the first of the three stories feels like a sort of mystical fairy-tale – a chance encounter that develops into a complex and deep relationship – the true genius of the trilogy is the way that Linklater humanises his characters throughout the following films. Of course, there is a hope shared between both the viewer and the characters that they may be able to cling to that first encounter, and their connection will never fade, but as the story progresses so does their relationship, revealing a human side to what previously was seen as fantastical.

I would say that if anyone stuck inside at the moment was looking for some way to escape, Linklater’s ‘Before’ trilogy is the perfect set of films. With none of the films going over the hour and forty minute, this short testament to cinema serves as a complete escape into a world of wonder and intrigue.

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