The Before Trilogy is like no other love story ever told. It spans actual decades and tells the story of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) who have a chance encounter on a train at the beginning of Before Sunrise. The two seemingly ordinary, yet completely different people strike up a conversation and decide to get off the train before their destination and have a night together in Vienna. The rest of the first film is us slowly and intimately following them and listening to their conversation as they meander through the city.
The second film, Before Sunset, begins nine real years later in a Paris bookstore where Jesse is doing a book signing. Who does he bump into? Celine, of course. The two walk around the city, this time in the daylight and they talk about the special night they had in Vienna.
Before Midnight, again was released nine years after the previous film and is probably the most difficult to watch of them all. Now in their forties, Jesse and Celine are no longer an underdog story where everyone hopes they fall in love. The two are now in complicated relationships and spend the summer with friends in Greece and the end of the trilogy gets tense, uncomfortable and most impressively, it gets real.
You may look at the three synopses and think that they are too long for the outline of a film. The problem with describing The Before Trilogy is that these are films that cannot be compared to any other. The fact that three of the same people (Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy) would get together every nine years to make a new film about the same characters and how their lives have progressed is ground-breaking. The quality of films themselves is simply astonishing.
All three films are different in telling the story of Jesse and Celine.
Let’s start with Before Sunrise. The opening title card appears on two train tracks converging together, fittingly enough. Our two leads meet, Jesse is a Texan traveling Europe with no plans. Celine is a student in Paris traveling back to school. It is noticeable from the beginning that this film will be rich in dialogue, but not just throw away dialogue. It is almost a reverse in how most stories are told. Most stories are told with a plot and dialogue used to advance the plot. These movies use dialogue as the substance of the film and plot is secondary.
The open-ended final scene of Before Sunrise leaves way for a sequel which Linklater didn’t pounce on but did eventually collaborate with Hawke and Delpy again for Before Sunset. This time, it is noticeable that she is leading the way around the city. That makes sense she lives there and he is just stopping by for a book tour. However, the basic point of the movie is the same. Who are these characters? With each line of dialogue, we find out a little bit more about their history, their current situation and how high the stakes are, even though they didn’t seem very high at the beginning of the film. It seemed like a friendly bump into an old friend, however, this could be the last time these two ever see each other.
After a more than subtle hint as to where the relationship was going at the end of Before Sunset, it was questioned whether a third film would ever happen. It did in 2013 with Before Midnight. Again, nine years later, the film is the boldest in its approach to several real-life things that happen to all of us but are glamorized in Hollywood. The film has a 13-minute car ride with mundane dialogue between Jesse and Celine, however again, the plot is secondary the things they are saying and how their relationship has developed is what makes this conversation so engrossing. The two characters are now in their forties and have fought through things that we haven’t been witness to, but in an epic fight sequence toward the end of the film, we hear everything come pouring out. The amazing thing about the fight sequence is how real it feels. It almost feels like watching your parents fight, it will make any viewer want to cringe but also appreciate the work Hawke, Delpy and Linklater put into the film. At no point in the fight are there slow building points with an explosion like most Hollywood fights. Rather, it takes you on an emotional journey, just when you think the worst has been said, something even more evil comes from the other person. The film wraps up a terrific trilogy that invites you into an intimate relationship. From beginning to the brink of the end.
THE EXTRA MILE
The number of extras that come with The Before Trilogy on Criterion are almost too many to name here and you can spend an entire day just watching the extras. Here is what they include:
2K digital transfers of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset and 2K digital master of Before Midnight, all approved by director Richard Linklater
New discussion featuring Linklater and actors Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, moderated by critic Kent Jones
Behind-the-scenes footage and interviews from the productions of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset
Audio commentary on Before Midnight by Delpy, Linklater, and Hawke
Richard Linklater: Dream Is Destiny, a feature-length 2016 documentary by Louis Black and Karen Bernstein
After Before, a new documentary by Athina Rachel Tsangari about the making of Before Midnight in Greece
New conversation between scholars Dave Johnson and Rob Stone about Linklater’s work
Episode of the radio program Fresh Air featuring host Terry Gross, Linklater, Delpy, and Hawke
The Before Trilogy set is one of the most beautiful that one can own, both content-wise and aesthetic wise. All three films come in a cardboard case that names itself The Before Trilogy. Inside, each film is separated into their own thin cardboard booklet. The artwork on each film reflects a painting style portrait of Jesse and Celine and what they look like in that film. The booklets are also colored differently to differentiate them as well as to reflect their mood in some cases. Audio/Video specs are also available in all the booklets as well as the main case.