Although we may love mind-bending sci-fi or fast-paced action blockbusters, sometimes what you want is a relaxing film to muse over. Richard Linklater’s trio of romantic dramas starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, certainly fit the bill. Based on an evening Linklater spent with a woman during his travels across America, these films centre on the chance encounter of Céline and Jesse on a train to Vienna. The first of the series, Before Sunrise was quickly labelled a hero in the American Independent Film Movement of the 1990s and is currently one of the few films in existence with a perfect 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes. This success paved the way for sequels, Before Sunset and Before Midnight, which today are considered a highly regarded series in independent film-making worldwide. So, though there are so many, here are five major reasons to love this incredible trilogy.
Nowadays on-screen romance can take on any form, blurring into genres like science fiction and action. This trilogy however takes the simple concept of two strangers meeting by chance on a train and paints a profound portrait of human chemistry.
Avoiding unnecessary characters, gimmicks, sets or sub-plots, Linklater focuses purely on the budding connection between his protagonists. Relatively little actually “happens” in these films per se – it is mostly Céline and Jesse walking around whilst talking about love and life in real time. Boring you say? Far from it. For its minimal action the trilogy possesses undeniable charm and intrigue, consolidated by the continuous cliff hangers.
2. Thought-Provoking Discussion
Despite having a basic premise at their heart, these films are some of the most profound romantic dramas out there. The characters talk openly about anything from religion to gender, politics and philosophy, whilst the scripts are impeccable examples of films created to please, expose and challenge rather than simply to make money.
Equally, modern feminists will appreciate the strong-willed nature of Delpy’s character. Céline is a well-educated young woman who is the epitome of female empowerment, working as an environmental advocate in Before Sunset and defending her right to a successful career in government whilst being a mother of two in Before Midnight. The films give a voice to previously taboo issues, a voice that still resonates today despite the first film being released over two decades ago.
3. Natural Chemistry
Whilst most films usually involve some degree of acting, it is essential that the stars of romantic movies have a natural connection to make their stories believable. The real-life friendship between Hawke and Delpy, both talented actors and bold personalities in real life, translates into their on-screen relationship. The actors also contributed significantly to the script-writing process, meaning their conversations flow so naturally that it’s sometimes hard to believe that we aren’t watching two people really fall in love.
Hawke fully encompasses his role as Jesse; the charming romantic masquerading as a cynic, and Delpy perfectly embodies Céline; the quirky and beautiful French graduate. Together they are a loveable contradiction. They create eccentric humour that undercuts their deep and meaningful conversations, along with some unforgettable movie moments, like the infamous scene from Before Sunrise in which they exchange fake phone calls in a Viennese café to admit their feelings for each other.
Set in Vienna, Paris and Greece respectively, you would expect some beautiful camera work to show off these spectacular locations in all their glory, and once again Linklater doesn’t disappoint. In accordance with the storyline, the cinematography is delightfully understated. The camera is exactly what it should be: a quiet observer of Jesse and Céline’s blossoming affection and their naturally picturesque surroundings.
The films are like a collection of mini travel guides, a walking-tour tribute to famous cities, historic landmarks and unknown regions.
From the Viennese Riesenrad, to the banks of the Seine and the ancient ruins of The Peloponnese, the films are like a collection of mini travel guides, a walking-tour tribute to famous cities, historic landmarks and unknown regions. Superbly edited and shot, the trilogy’s cinematography is equally as beautiful as the love story it tells.
5. Honest Portrayal of Relationships
Some romance films, particularly those Hollywood movies that the Independent Film Movement objected to, are so idyllic that the reality of human interaction is lost entirely. These films on the other hand stay true to their goal, exploring every element of relationships – the good, the bad and the ugly. Addressing the nitty-gritty of sexual pleasure, ageing, careers, marriage, divorce and children, the trilogy is a comprehensive guide to relationships if ever there was one.
They were each filmed nine years apart from each other, authentically portraying the naturally tumultuous evolutions of Jesse and Céline as well as their actors. The trilogy’s final film, Before Midnight also presents viewers with perhaps one of the longest and best developed arguments in romantic movie history. But rather than encouraging viewers to lose faith in romance, the overarching message of these films is simply that there is no such thing as a perfect relationship, but that there is such a thing as real love.