On a film-history level, there have been great romantic (and non-romantic) couples on the big screen: Ginger & Fred, Hepburn & Tracy, Turner & Douglas, Winslet & DiCaprio… to name a few. Delpy and Hawke have entered this “tradition” by their natural need to work together. Not only they started this trend by the hand of Richard Linklater in Before Sunrise, but they also lent their physical presence (and acting) to be “rotoscoped” for Linklater’s Waking Life, where they, again, played the same comfortable couple (in some sort of parallel univers/dream). Plus, Delpy and Hawke might be the only screen couple given the chance to write their own character/script. So this definitely sets them apart from the pack.
The case of the “Before” series (we call it that way because, who knows if there’s going to be a 4th and 5ht installment) is a very interesting one. First of all Linklater, as well as Winterbottom in England, is not prone to follow demographics or create products of mass consumption. Every one of his films is an island with a set of rules, not to be compared or linked with the previous one or the following, and as Ang Lee, his interests are varied and surprising and he doesn’t like to repeat himself.
In 1995, he made a small romantic film about a young American tourist riding on a train back home and a young French woman, also going back home. His idea was to create romance through the simple act of talking, and since they’re two young cultured people, they do have a lot to talk about. These two strangers start opening their life, thoughts, beliefs, and dreams. Linklater make them wander through the streets of Vienna for the period of one night and this limitation work wonders in the development of the story-romance. The fact that the “lovers” will face an imminent and irrevocable separation (as they go back to the place they call home, but which still in development) brings melancholic memories of Alan Resnais’ “Hiroshima Mon Amour”, but in the age of technology, we, hopeless romantics, know they’ll meet again.
Come 2004. Jesse and Celine meet again (not by chance) Jesse has based his writing career writing about that special night, in hopes Celine might get the call and find a way to him. And so they do. Before Sunset brings them back together with the advantage that they are really desperately in love (the could-have-been is a very dangerous thing to hold) and the disadvantage that Jesse is married with children, and that he is on his way to the airport (once again running away from Europe). Nevertheless the structure of Linklater’s film doesn’t feel rushed, but very quiet and precise. We are in love with the characters as much as they are with each other.
Nine more years, 2013, and Jesse and Celine are already living together. Jesse never left Paris and they have twins. We see them as they travel to a little country house in Greece to spend some time with friends. Of course, if you follow the logical lifeline of a couple, you already know routine and living with the little not-so-nice vices of the other, has made them comfortable enough to enjoy sarcasm and an ever growing need to move in different directions and continue with their independent lives. You could call it the mid-life crisis that comes when you know you’re aging. The truth is Before Midnight brings romance out of the mind and onto the table.
The claustrophobic (yet very elastic) nature of time in the first two films is freed in the third one, splitting time into blocks of long tracking takes where the characters have plenty of room to breathe their deep, and sometimes disturbing thoughts. Other characters populate their life, so now they’re not just “a couple”. They have responsibilities (children) social engagements (friends) and the experience and alienation of 9 years together, all told in the beautiful landscapes of Greece, where drama and comedy were brought to eternity.
The way to navigate this third film is to remember who Jesse and Celine are, and trust them above easy Hollywood resolutions. Jesse is still this writer who steals from life and fixes what he can, and Celine is a socially conscious woman. Jesse gave up America and his wife and son for her; Celine gave up her song writing and dreams of making the world a better place. Maybe here is the core of their dissatisfaction, and not the actual relationship. But let’s leave it to the last and impressive sequence of the film to reveal it.
One thing I can say: I wanna see them again in 2022.