The Before Trilogy is a subliminal series of films directed by Richard Linklater, starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. Set apart from most of cinema by its stunning dialogues, this movie manages to suit the conversation of its characters to their age, making the on-screen activity very akin to what we might experience in real life.
The first, Before Sunrise (1994), is a movie of soft lighting, of subdued sounds, and beautiful music. Set in Vienna, it’s a movie about serendipity, of two strangers finding their way to each other, by a medley of luck, and youth, and timing. It’s a movie that speaks to us, the little children of fairy tales bred, about the ephemeral nature that gives moments like these more beauty than a world of riding away in the sunset together could ever hope for.
It reassures us, that there is more to life than the sheer banality of our humdrum lives. It gives us hope, that if we take a chance on us, if we take a chance on life, we might just be privy to some of the magic that some people spend their entire lives searching for, and only glimpse briefly. It is a clichéd enough storyline: two strangers meet in a train; but here’s where it stops being a cliché. There is no happily ever after, no wedding bells. This is a movie that satisfies both the inner women in us; the hopeful mushy lover of happy endings, and the pragmatic feminist, holding up the burden of all the world’s oppression through aeons, that asserts scathingly that “a woman don’t need no man to survive.”
It’s a movie of stunning cinematography, and holds some conversations that the wannabe philosopher in all of us would dearly love to be a part of. Without stooping to any overtly crowd-pleasing sexy scenes, this movie manages to retain an air of gentle romance, the kind without messy promises or declarations.
The next movie, Before Sunset (2003) skips forward nine years in time, both real and on-screen. It shows a slightly scruffier version of the boy and a slightly polished version of the girl, who stole our hearts in the previous movie. In this, there’s more of reality, in keeping with the way that time chips away at our romance off-screen. It both completes, and adds to its predecessor, in a way that lets both retain their individuality, but adds to the charm of this movie series. It shows the scars that living makes upon our psyche, but also how two people with a kind inexplicable connection can feel each other’s way out of it. This movie reveals how the magical lives that we see of others is but a thin veneer that hides the worries, the experiences that shape each of us into what we are. Yet, it holds on to the principle that we never really change, fundamentally.
This is a movie of love, literature and music, set in Paris. It has an accurate enough depiction of Paris at the beginning of the millennium, with its messy, shabby chic cafes, bookstores and parks. It shows the glamorous but understated vintage store wardrobe of Julie Delpy to an advantage, as the couple navigate the curving lanes and arrondissements of the city.
The series has an aura of authenticity that pierces through the silver screen and makes it stand out as a love story that has stood the true test of time. One of the main reasons for this is that the actors themselves age and develop in real time, along with their characters in the movie. Moreover, the portrayal of the different stages of romance, along with the fact that we get to see beyond the screen into what feels like the real deal, the messy parts of a relationship, adds to the beauty of this film.
Before Midnight (2013), picks up on our characters after a decade. It emphasizes the way two people living together can begin to chafe. It goes on to prove the truth of the old adage, ‘familiarity breeds contempt’. It shows how we put on our best selves, like a mask, during social interactions, only to take it off before those who we feel comfortable with. It depicts the way responsibilities and encumbrances increase with age, making it harder to achieve spontaneity in romance.
All in all, the trilogy’s charm lies in the character development and the dialogue, to say nothing of the cinematography and the wardrobe. ‘” Affair to Remember” on Eurail-pass, but talky’ is the NY Times’ succinct review, and it suits the films to a tee.