Requiem For a Film: The "Before Trilogy" exemplifies romance without the romanticism
After a chance meeting on a train carriage in Europe, two exuberant young souls vacationing from separate parts of the globe forge an unmistakable romantic bond. Director, Richard Linklater, purposefully borrows an ordinary premise, which undergoes splendid transmutation through immeasurable dimensionality. The Before Trilogy evades any trace of embellishment; a common characteristic amongst the romance genre, which traditionally corrupts any opportunity for relatability. Stripped of their rose-coloured glasses, viewers are gently exposed to a more holistic perspective of what it actually means to be in love.
The love-stricken protagonists share a beautifully unrefined energy. Jesse (Ethan Hawke) is a sentimental romantic from America, and Celine (Julie Delpy) is an impassioned free spirit from France. The meeting of these energies forms an inexplicable dynamic. Throughout the story arc, the pair strives to navigate the invariable ups and downs of life together, which include significant geographical as well as emotional disparities. Amidst the solemnity is a constant undercurrent of playfulness, poking gaping breathing holes in an otherwise overwrought atmosphere.
Individually, each movie feels deeply satisfying in its own right. However, it’s the exquisite connectedness of all three that completes the entire picture. The character’s perspectives and capacities to deal with a long-term relationship undergo increasing maturity, emphasised by the extensive nine-year intervals between each film.
In Before Sunrise, a boundless innocence predominates. The pair is young and seemingly invincible, and can afford to be a bit reckless and naïve whilst sauntering the decorated streets of Vienna together. Engaged in an admirable game of trial and error, Jesse and Celine fervently explore intimacy and closeness – empty of inhibitions, but brimming with vulnerability.
Almost a decade later, Jesse has manifested his desire to become an established writer. Before Sunset sees their coveted reunion take place after some wishful coordination on the novelist’s behalf. Each uniquely affected by their individual life paths, the pair entertains the idea of rekindling a relationship saturated in some very legitimate worldly difficulties.
Now bearing the responsibility of marriage and custodial complications, the obligations of the relationship have stretched even further, as well as the necessity for compromise and cooperation. Personalities have reached a crescendo on a holiday in Greece in the final chapter of the trilogy, Before Midnight. Endearing idiosyncrasies have alchemised into intolerable habits, as the couple endures the universally felt strain of long-standing intimate relationships.
Critiquing the acting here is almost a nonsensical exercise. The performances by Hawke and Delpy don’t really seem to be performances at all. It feels much more like an authentic overspill of life experience, rather than some sort of supremely mastered farce - an unequalled feat in cinema. However, behind this organic flow actually lies meticulous formulation. “I know it seems naturalistic, but it’s really hard on us,” Delpy says in an interview. “That’s why we take nine years to recover between films!”
Intertwined within the films is the poignant theme of the inherent transience and preciousness of life. This can be pointed to explicitly by Jesse’s philosophical purges on death, or more covertly alluded to by the tender demise of a sunset. The trilogy deliberately delivers its thoughtful messages through multiple angles and formats, providing a craftily penetrative effect amongst its audience.
The Before Trilogy is a peerless masterpiece of cinematic romance, without ever deteriorating into gratuitous romanticism. It embeds itself in realism, whilst simultaneously radiating a sense of wonder that we all truly yearn for in our intimate relationships. Linklater understands that there is a whole spectrum of human relating in the world, and he conveys this understanding with immaculate precision and sensitivity.