Thursday 31 December 2015

The Before Trilogy: 20 Years On....

At the end of 2014 I chose to look back and celebrate the anniversary of the Dollars Trilogy as it turned 50 years old. I thought I would maintain this annual tradition (a tradition of one article and counting) by looking back on another trilogy reaching a milestone. Although to be fair, far from being long over this trilogy only ended three years ago in 2013, having started 20 years ago in 1995. If you hadn’t worked it out I am talking about Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy.

‘Before Sunrise’ (1995), ‘Before Sunset’ (2004) and ‘Before Midnight’ (2013) chronicled the long running and tumultuous relationship between Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy as Jesse and Celine. In ‘Before Sunrise’ they are thrown together by a bickering middle aged couple (foreshadowing much?) sharing their train carriage as they each make their way back home. They spend the night together in the Austrian Capital (not in that way!). They simply roam the streets of Vienna, discussing life, love and loss as well as death, the city around them, life back home, from the obscurest detail to the broadest and most philosophical topic, they walk and talk for the rest of the night. That’s as far as it goes plot wise, but we all know that for certain movies, the plot is not even half the story.

The movie treats the passage of time as a looming presence over the two of them, slowly drawing their interval together to a close. Every time it’s referenced your heart sinks a little as even though the current conversation is enjoyable and entertaining, there is that undeniable sense of defeat as the Jesse and Celine must soon part ways. This is one area that Linklater excels at as a writer, he makes you want to spend more time with his characters and though you were happy to be given a window into their lives, you wish you could spend more time there. In ‘Dazed and Confused’ I always find myself wishing that the film will just continue, that I can watch the four friends go to the Metallica concert and watch what happens upon their return to school. The same can be said for ‘Before Sunrise’ as in a surprise ending, Jesse and Celine really do part ways, choosing not to stay together.

If you watched that in 1995, you would have to wait until 2004 to get that wish for more time fulfilled. Nine years later the couple reunite, which was odd, because though ‘Before Sunset’ was emotionally engaging and ambiguous in its ending, there was really no call for a sequel, as if this chance encounter was impactful but not significant, just one small space of time in their lives that physically means very little. However Jesse used that night as inspiration for a novel which makes him a renowned author, and at a book signing in Paris, they meet again. This encounter is similar, but subtly different. Both characters are more cynical now, contrary to feeling as if anything was possible in 1995, they now have commitments and responsibilities.

One remarkable thing about this film, even more than the previous, is how effortless it feels. The first was permeated with moments of awkwardness between the two but now the conversations flow at a much faster and relaxed rate. They know each other now, they are not strangers and that romance seems to have been suppressed slightly. But that does not mean it does not exist. St the same time though they do not rush into revelations, they take their time to come to certain conclusions that we already know, why? Because real life is rarely as spontaneous as the movies say it is, and Linklater knows that.

Another nine years pass, and we reach ‘Before Midnight’ in 2013. Jesse and Celine are now parents and wrestling with the issues of a long term relationship. Harkening back to their first meeting eighteen years ago, they are now that bickering middle aged couple that caused their first meeting. There is still a sense that time is running out as they revel in the last day of a family holiday before a return to normality. It echoes the moments of the past as the two struggle to reconcile and never fails to feel genuine.

Though it would have been easy to romanticise this third chapter, Linklater offers such a truthful view of this mature relationship that you are equally enthralled once again. It feels painful whenever they argue and sometimes depressing, because the film exploits your connection with these characters and uses it against you whenever they argue. It could be quite disconcerting but by retaining similar tones and themes of the previous films it simply feels like another chapter in their story, one that is equally powerful and seductive as every other instalment.

One last thing, I’ve celebrated a few anniversaries this year such as ‘Heat’, ‘Back to the Future’ and ‘The Breakfast Club’. But there are a few I didn’t get around to celebrating like the twentieth anniversary of ‘Seven’ and the thirtieth anniversary of ‘Ran’ and the fortieth anniversary of ‘Nashville’. But above all of them, one endearing absence is Scorsese, given that 2015 marks the 35th anniversary of ‘Raging Bull’, the 30th anniversary of ‘After Hours and 25 years since the release of ‘Goodfellas’. This cannot go unnoticed, but given that 2016 represents 40 years since Travis Bickle first asked if we were talking to him in ‘Taxi Driver’, as well as the new release of Scorsese’s long awaited passion project ‘Silence’ I think next year is a good enough time to do a new series of reviews, going through the director’s very best films and trying to reach an answer to the question ‘is he the best director of all time?’. Find out next year.

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