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  • Writer's picturePerrin Faerch

Classics Review: The Before Trilogy (1995, 2004, 2013)

Updated: Apr 16, 2021

Original Review Date: 25 November 2020

Richard Linklater has always been a filmmaker fascinated with the concept of time through an almost real-time linear narrative, or at least the very structure of time and how it unfolds through his characters. His best and most interesting films are heavily structured around the idea of time and the moments found within: Notable examples include Slacker (1990), Dazed and Confused (1993), Waking Life (2001), Boyhood (2014), and of course, the Before Trilogy (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight).

Filmmaking auteurs put their mark on every film they make by incorporating their unique, creative DNA onto them. On the surface, these filmmakers have such a distinct aesthetic visual style that go along with the themes and characters found within. It’s easy to distinguish each of these filmmakers, especially as they begin to evolve and grow with life experiences, forming their own eventual style. With Linklater, who is a truly unique auteur, doesn’t necessarily have a flashy and notable visual language, what makes something so intrinsically Linklater, is the very language and underlying DNA that exists within his films. With the aforementioned films, every character harbours not only the thoughts and musings of the creator, but with his performers and subjects as well. What also makes Linklater a special filmmaker is that he is a complete and true collaborator.

Although Boyhood is more ambitious in terms of the length of time, structure and execution, The Before Trilogy is still his crowning achievement for me. The trilogy follows the relationship between Jesse and Celine, who first meet on a train in Austria, with each follow-up taking place 9 years later in Paris and Greece respectively. Each film takes place over the course of a few hours over a day/evening, where they talk about a wide range of different topics in each film - truly showing growth in their thoughts, opinions and stories that feel so truly personal to not only the characters, but the performers as well. These films are mostly walking and talking, and few filmmakers have mastered the art of this quite like Linklater. He did it to an extent with Slacker, but not quite like he did on the first outing of the trilogy with Before Sunrise (1995). Two people talking about stuff has never felt so cinematic, with long single takes drifting along as they wonder around a new city in each film. It’s also important to note that both Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are credited as co-writers in both the sequels of Before Sunset (2004) and Before Midnight (2013). This collaborative effort with Linklater truly shows his wonderful skills as a director, allowing for his performers to really explore their chemistry as creators and add their own personal spin to both Jesse and Celine that feels so authentic. These feel like real people and with each film we truly immerse ourselves within their lives.

As mentioned before, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are perfect for each other and really drive these films to towering heights. They are convincing as real people who have lived the experiences they talk about in the trilogy. It’s hard to create characters that feel naturally authentic, and that’s what they do, providing some of the greatest and most organic chemistry I have ever seen in a film. Linklater’s strength in allowing characters to just go with the flow is perfectly captured through observant long shots that drift along with them, keeping the natural feel of a conversation between two people getting to know each other, catching up, and eventually reminiscing about that magical first day together. The Before Trilogy also presents as a masterclass in dialogue and its ability to give insight into characters and their underlying psyches. It never once feels disingenuous, and it is beyond me that Linklater isn’t praised as highly as the likes of Tarantino and Sorkin. While their dialogue is highly stylized and flashy, with the former in particular being guilty of characters not knowing when to keep quiet, Linklater let’s conversations run their course naturally, as well as developing into another topic that really does feel genuine. We have all had these kinds of conversations, especially in regards to getting to know someone whether it be a romantic interest or someone you have just met.

The Before Trilogy is among the most perfectly realized, executed and performed series of films I have ever had the pleasure of watching. It is pure cinematic joy and consistently reminds me of the power and passion that film stirs within me. It remains to be seen if we will return in 2022 on an update of Jesse and Celine, but right now, I know they’re going to be alright.

You can stream the Before Trilogy over at HBO MAX.

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