Monday, June 10, 2013

BEFORE SUNRISE ('95), BEFORE SUNSET ('04), BEFORE MIDNIGHT (2013) - Richard Linklater


When people have asked me over the years if I have favorite rom-com or romantic film, a genre I tend to slink away from in resignation and/or disgust, the only ready answer I ever seem to have is "Before Sunrise." It's the only film about relationships I can recall that had the intended effect...it made me a little teary-eyed. Granted, I had just gone through my first serious break-up after my first serious college relationship. Granted, I was nursing a heavy crush on Julie Delpy after seeing Killing Zoe and Three Colors: White. Needless to say, I was ripe for the weeping. Still, it hit me where I lived (not Vienna, btw). For once, here was a film both romantic and realistic about love.

French Celine (Delpy) and American Jesse (Ethan Hawke) meet on a Eurorail train, but they don't meet-cute. At first, Celine is just changing seats to avoid a loud arguing German couple. They strike up a conversation, Jesse doing most of the talking, even pitching her an idea for a 24-hour, 365-day-a-year TV show that just follows ordinary people around in their daily lives. Though he sounds like a refugee character from Slacker, Celine cottons to him quickly, even agrees to hop off the train before her destination, kill some time with him in Vienna before heading back to Paris.

What follows is lots of spirited conversation, lots of strolling past landmarks, a format which both of the subsequent two films share to varying degrees. Imagine an OK Cupid date where you're actually excited about the other person, interested in hearing what they have to say after two drinks. Now imagine it in a European city you've never been to before. Celine and Jesse both realize this is one of those "magic moments" that don't come along often. But they're also apprehensive about it, realize that because they live on different continents, know the way relationships generally tend to go, that it will probably have to be for one night. So they talk and talk and talk some more, make a pact to enjoy the rest of the night until Jesse's plane leaves in the morning. They fudge on their adult decision at the last minute, make an impromptu agreement to meet again at the same place in six months. As an ending it works. It was hopeful without being hokey. At least they didn't hop that plane together, get a quickie Vegas wedding.

Cut to nine years later in Paris, Before Sunset. Jesse's got a crew cut now, a fledgling lit career, a wife and kid back in the States. His best-seller is, of course, about that fateful night with Celine. Celine shows up at the book shop, and they agree to stroll around some more before Jesse has to catch another plane. Turns out Jesse showed up six months later but Celine did not due to a family emergency. Celine is in a relationship, too. They reconnect during the course of their walk, mostly in real time, wondering and fretting what their lives would be like now if they had reunited years before. It's obvious there's still a strong attraction there. But also...prior commitments. Then Celine has to go and invite Jesse up to her flat and play him a song (about him) on her guitar. The movie fades on a question mark. Will they or won't they? Meanwhile, a hired car idles outside.

Nine more years, Before Midnight. SPOILER ALERT: Celine and Jesse have taken the martial plunge. Or, at least, the cohabitation plunge. They're living in Paris now, vacationing in Greece. They have twin blond moppet daughters. Jesse's fretting over his son from his first marriage who he's just put on a plane back to America. Celine's fretting over a new job, the likelihood that Jesse is going to cave on their agreement, ask her to move with him to Chicago to be closer to his son. There's still lots and lots of spirited conversation. But now there's a not so healthy undercurrent of aggression. Jesse calls Celine the "mayor of Crazytown." Celine informs Jesse he's "no Henry Miller" in the sack or between the pages. Ouch! Look who's become the French-American version of the bickering German couple at the beginning of Sunrise, the one that prompted their relationship in the first place. Oh, the irony! Oh, the misery! Oh, the reality! We love you and we hate you. We're contemplating separation. Or, at least, another sequel in nine years. Call it Before Mid-Afternoon. Maybe Celine and Jesse are retirees on Segways catching an early bird special in Chicago or the Canary Islands. Would I go see it? I sure as hell would...if I'm still alive.

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