The Before Trilogy: Criterion Collection
April 7, 2017
Few people saw Before Sunrise when it was released in 1995 but those who did really loved it. In its own subtle and unassuming way, Richard Linklater’s film flew in the face of most romantic films at the time. It refused to be dated by obvious, trendy popular culture references and music. It featured an honest dialogue between two twentysomethings who meet by chance on a train and decide to get off together in Vienna. Even though it wasn’t a commercial success it developed enough of a following and was near and dear to Linklater and his two lead actors – Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy – that they reunited for a sequel entitled, Before Sunset (2004). It continued the romantic vibe of the first film and ended on a tantalizing cliffhanger that wasn’t resolved until Before Midnight (2013), the darkest in tone of all three films as the ramifications of the characters’ actions in the previous two installments bears fruit.
Before Sunrise opens with Jesse (Hawke), an American taking a train to Vienna where he plans to fly back home after a disastrous summer trip around Europe. On-board he meets Celine (Delpy), a French student headed for Paris to resume classes at the Sorbonne, thanks to a loudly bickering German couple that causes her to move and sit across from him. In a sly, self-referential nod to the format of Linklater’s to Slacker (1990) and Dazed and Confused (1993), which adhered to a 24-hour time frame, Jesse tells Celine about a reality show he would like to see that would consist of 24-hour-long episodes documenting a day in the life of an average person. It sounds like something one of the characters in Slacker would pitch.
Jesse and Celine get to talking in the dinner car and enjoy the experience so much that they agree to get off the train together in Vienna and spend the night walking around the city getting to know each other, taking in the sights. At one point Jesse tells Celine, “I feel like this is some dream world we’re in,” to which she replies, “It must be like I’m in your dream and you’re in mine.” This is what Before Sunrise is – a cinematic dream world that we can lose ourselves in every time we watch it. Linklater captures a specific moment in time for these two characters – one magical night where they make a true connection that they will never forget.
Since Before Sunrise, fans of the film had wondered and ruminated about what happened to the two main characters. Did they meet up as promised or go their separate ways forever? Linklater and his two leads decided to revisit these characters and try to recreate the magic of this first film, so cherished by its admirers.
Jesse is in Paris promoting his first novel — about his night with Celine nine years ago. Apparently, by chance, she shows up to his reading and they decide to spend the ninety minutes he has remaining before having to go to the airport catching up with each other. She playfully chides him for romanticizing their night a little too much for her liking in his book. They talk about getting older and appreciating things more.
Linklater, Hawke and Delpy were able to recreate the chemistry that their two characters had in Before Sunrise. As soon as they start talking, it comes back almost immediately, as if they never stopped talking since that last time. Like the first film, Before Sunset is a dialogue-driven film, effortlessly picking up where the other left off. With sequels there is always the trepidation of whether or not the magic of the first film can be recreated. It is safe to say that Linklater and Co. have done it. We fall in love with these characters all over again as they talk and rekindle their friendship. During the course of the film you can sense that Jesse and Celine don’t want their brief time to end and neither do we.
Before Midnight asks the tough question that romantic movies do not because they usually end by that point – what happens when you finally get what you want and live happily ever after with the person you’ve pursued romantically? Linklater’s third film in the series answers this in a decidedly darker, more realistic fashion than one would expect considering the overly romantic tone of the first two films.
Since we last saw them in Before Sunset, Jesse and Celine have gotten married, have two kids and are currently vacationing in Greece with two other couples. The first scene already hits us with the ramifications of their choice to be together as he is seeing his son from his previous marriage off at the airport. He jokes and talks with his son but it is clearly painful for Jesse to see him go – Hawke expresses it all in his eyes.
Resentments start boiling to the surface as Jesse expresses his feelings about not being a good father to his son and he and Celine get into an argument when she points out that this is how couples eventually break-up, which he, of course, scoffs at.
Delpy and Hawke effortlessly slip back into these beloved characters and make the brave decision to show a dark side to them as the romance of the first two films gives way to the responsibilities and realities of being married. Since they have lived together a few years they know which buttons to push when they argue. There is a lot of truisms in Before Midnight, especially if you’ve ever been married and it is a fitting installment in this ongoing film series.
The new transfer for Before Sunrise is a definite improvement over the DVD version with excellent detail and natural looking colors. The Before Sunset transfer is similar to Sunrise with the image looking brighter than its DVD incarnation. Before Midnight supposedly features a new transfer but it looks virtually the same as the Sony Blu-Ray to me.
On the Before Sunrise disc there is “The Space Between” featuring a conversation between director Richard Linklater and actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. Linklater and Hawke start things off by talking about the origins of Before Sunrise and how they first met. Delpy joins them and talks about how Before Sunset came together and how the three of them worked on the screenplay. They take us through the impetus for Before Midnight and the decision to make it darker in tone than the two previous films. This is an engaging and informative extra that fans of these films will love.
“3×2: A Conversation” features writers Dave Johnson and Rob Stone, both of whom have written books about Linklater’s films, as they examine the themes in the Before trilogy. They start off talking about when they first saw it. They point out recurring visual motifs in all three films. This is a very informative extra with excellent observations.
“Behind the Scenes” is a promotional featurette done at the time of its release with soundbite interviews with Linklater, Hawke and Delpy.
On the Before Sunset disc there is “Richard Linklater: Dream is Destiny,” an 86-minute documentary made for the PBS series American Masters in 2016 that examines his life and career with interviews with actors like Ethan Hawke and Matthew McConnaughy and members of his family. It sheds light on his unique approach to filmmaking – a low-key vibe that places an emphasis on character. This is an excellent profile on Linklater.
“Linklater//On Cinema on Time” is a visual essay where Linklater talks about the relationship between cinema and time and how he perceives the latter as its depicted in the former.
“Behind the Scenes” is a promotional featurette for the film with Linklater, Hawke and Delpy talking about it interspersed with clips from Before Sunset.
The Before Midnight disc features an audio commentary by Linklater, Hawke and Delpy. This easy-going track sees them reminisce about making the film and talk about some of its themes in a casual way. This is an engaging track that is a good listen.
“After Before” is a 30-minute documentary with behind-the-scenes footage of the production. It’s a fly-on-the-wall approach that provides insight into how this film came together.
“Love Darkens and Deepens” is a 40-minute episode of Fresh Air, a radio program hosted by Terry Gross where she interviews Linklater, Hawke and Delpy. They talk about what motivated them to make this film and how Before Midnight differs from the previous two films.