Before Sunrise, Sunset & Midnight

In 1999, when the “Long, long time ago in a galaxy far far away” sequence started unfolding during Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, the first thing I did was to clap along with hundreds of zealous Star Wars fans, the second thing I did was to thank the good Lord that I was still alive 16 years later after Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983) to catch a new Star Wars movie!  Well, thank God I’ve now lived long enough to see two sets of Star Wars trilogy (1977-1980-1983) and (1999-2002-2005). And here’s yet another trilogy that I recently give thanks for – the absolutely amazing Ethan Hawke-Julie Delpy’s romantic talkie-walkie saga, Before Sunrise (1995), Before Sunset (2004) and Before Midnight (2013) – a total stretch of 18 years between them….

Before Sunrise

Acting and dialogue wise, as well as pacing and story development, this Europe-based series beats the Star Wars saga hands down (well, maybe not the first trilogy which was ace; the newer one could have been better…). We first met Jesse and Celine for the first time in Before Sunrise. Hawke had just become the latest IT boy after Reality Bites, while French actress Delpy was gaining notices with her role in the Three Colours trilogy. Then they were two young bohemian kids who met on a train and wind up spending one incredible evening together in Vienna, just  talking and talking. We were simply glad that they let us join their journey and made us fell in love with Europe even more. Did they or did they not do the deed that night? Who cares? But do you think they actually kept their promise to meet each other again the following year? Ahh, that was the million dollar question….

Before Sunset 2It would be 9 years later before we get to meet Jesse and Celine again in Before Sunset. Thanks to Linklater and the two stars, they too, like millions of fans worldwide were keen to explore “what could have been” and gosh, what an outcome! Jesse is now a famous writer (and married with kid) and while in  Paris to launch his second book (which detailed the chance encounter) , who did he meet but Celine who turned up at his book signing! And they certainly have a lot to talk about. Did they actually went back to Vienna to meet up? Did they actually fell in love at first sight? Did they tried to look for each other in the years gone by? Sorry, not going to give any spoilers here but let’s just say they sure have lots to say about each other and very emotional it got too. And the whole film was so brilliantly shot – it’s practically just a two-actor piece with Ethan and Julie just walking and talking (and fighting) non-stop in some of the most beautiful paths and rivers of Paris in almost real-time (two hours from the time they met at the famous bookstore Shakespeare Book Company, to Jesse watching Celine dancing in her apartment before he was supposed to catch a flight…). Arguably two of the best performances that year but all the film got was a paltry Best Original Screenplay Oscar nod. (Although it did win a much deserved Special Recognition Award for Excellence in Filmmaking from the National Board of Review.)

Before midnightWell, with Before Midnight, yet another 9 years have gone by. Again older and again not necessarily wiser, this time Jesse and Celine are together with twin daughters – he also has a son from a previous marriage – and spending a holiday in Greece. Like the other films, it’s a day in the life of Jesse and Celine and the wonderfulness of it all is just how brilliant and comfortable Ethan and Julie are in their roles. You have to bear in mind that most of the dialogue are thought of by themselves and they simply go with the flow as they take what seem to be an endless walk through the Greek countryside from day to night to an explosive climax in an hotel room doing what they always does best, trying to talk sense to and reason with each other, and not necessarily with much love, as most strong-willed, opinionated couples would…

Absolutely absorbing and mind-blowing. Before Midnight certainly is and should be in the running for Best Film, Best Original Screenplay and Best Acting for the two leads at next year’s Oscars. I did wonder whether one need to watch the other two films to enjoy the show – and I think yes you must. Then you would understand just how complex and complicated these two characters are, and why they are so passionate and attracted to each other. Out of the three, Before Sunset is my favourite but as a cinematic trilogy, the Before series is certainly one of the best presentation of excellence in filmmaking. Bravo…

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