A beautiful trilogy with an arthouse feel are the three Before… – movies. Set each 9 years apart from one another, it tells the story of the American Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and the French Céline (Julie Delpy). From a chance meeting on a train to Vienna, to a meeting in Paris, to a holiday in Greece. The movies have a minimalist plot, they are each just a relationship forming with the two main characters walking and talking. The movies are also pretty much set in real time, no fast forwarding or flash backs. Jesse and Céline are just two real people, talking about real feelings, and real emotions. Not an overly dramatic / over-the-top-Hollywood romance, but a subtle and sweet romance forming as the characters get to know each other. The simplicity and realistic view give the movies their strength.
Before Sunrise (1995):
American tourist Jesse and French student Céline meet by chance on the train from Budapest to Vienna. Sensing that they are developing a connection, Jesse asks Céline to spend the day with him in Vienna, and she agrees to pass the time before his scheduled flight the next morning. How do two perfect strangers connect so intimately over the course of a single day? What is that special thing that bonds two people so strongly? And what will happen to them the next morning when Jesse flies away? Writer/director Pichard Linklater wanted to explore the “relationship side of life and discover two people who had complete anonymity and try to find out who they really were.” He decided to put Jesse and Céline in a foreign country because “when you’re traveling, you’re much more open to experiences outside your usual realm”.
In the sequel, Before Sunset (2004), set 9 years after the first meeting in Before Sunrise:
Early thirty-something Jesse is in a Paris bookstore, the last stop on a tour to promote his best selling book, This Time. Although he is vague to reporters about the source material for the book, it is about his chance encounter nine years earlier with a Parisienne named Céline, and the memorable and romantic day and evening they spent together in Vienna. At the end of their encounter at the Vienna train station, which is also how the book ends, they, not providing contact information to the other, vowed to meet each other again in exactly six months at that very spot. As the media scrum at the bookstore nears its conclusion, Jesse spots Céline in the crowd, she who only found out about the book when she earlier saw his photograph promoting this public appearance. Much like their previous encounter, Jesse and Céline, who is now an environmental activist, decide to spend time together until he is supposed to catch his flight back to New York, this time only being about an hour. Beyond the issue of the six month meeting, what has happened in their lives in the intervening nine years, and their current lives, they once again talk about their philosophies of life and love, this time with the knowledge of their day together and how it shaped what has happened to them.
And the final installment of the trilogy, Before Midnight (2013):
The French-American couple who met on a train in Vienna eighteen years ago, now live in Paris with twin daughters, but have spent a summer in Greece on the invitation of an author colleague of Jesse’s. Jesse is struggling to maintain his relationship with his teenage son, Hank, who lives in Chicago with Jesse’s ex-wife and who, after spending the summer with Jesse and Céline on the Greek Peloponnese peninsula, is being dropped off at the airport to fly home. Jesse has continued to find success as a novelist, while Céline is at a career crossroads, considering a job with the French government.
After dropping off Hank at the airport, the couple discuss their worries about Hank having a healthy childhood and Céline deciding what to do with her career, before returning to the house of their Greek friend, Patrick. Over dinner they discuss ideas about love and life, and the other people staying with them buy Jesse and Céline a hotel room for that night so they can have some time alone. While walking to the hotel, the couple reminisce about how they met and how their lives have changed since then. When they arrive at the hotel, however, the two have a vicious argument, as both of them pour out their fears about a present and future together.
As Jesse and Céline fall in love over and over again, I also fell in love with the poem (click here for the movie clip) by the poet David Jewell in the first movie, Before Sunrise:
Oh, baby with your pretty face
Drop a tear in my wineglass
Look at those big eyes
See what you mean to me
Sweet cakes and milkshakes
I am a delusioned angel
I am a fantasy parade
I want you to know what I think
Don’t want you to guess anymore
You have no idea where I came from
We have no idea where we’re going
Launched in life
Like branches in the river
Caught in the current
I’ll carry you
You’ll carry me
That’s how it could be
Don’t you know me?
Don’t you know me by now?
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