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An Alternative Guide to Great Movies: Before Sunrise Trilogy (1995-2013)

PUBLISHED: 12:44 16 February 2018 | UPDATED: 13:21 16 February 2018

Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy as Jesse and Celine talk their way into a romance in Before Sunrise, the first part of a film trilogy by Richard Linklater. Photo: Castle Rock Entertainment

Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy as Jesse and Celine talk their way into a romance in Before Sunrise, the first part of a film trilogy by Richard Linklater. Photo: Castle Rock Entertainment

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Films with re-watch value, movies with a unique quality, will become the classics of the future. Arts editor Andrew Clarke presents a series of idiosyncratic suggestions for movies that may entertain if you are in the mood for something different.

Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy as Jesse and Celine talk their way into a romance in Before Sunset, the second part of a film trilogy by Richard Linklater. Photo: Castle Rock Entertainment Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy as Jesse and Celine talk their way into a romance in Before Sunset, the second part of a film trilogy by Richard Linklater. Photo: Castle Rock Entertainment

Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight; dir: Richard Linklater; starring: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Cert: 15 (1995/2004/2013)

As the romantic tingles of St Valentine’s Day remain in the air, enclosing us all in a rosy glow, this week, I am offering three movies for the price of one. Most Hollywood romances tend to be emotionally manipulative and formulaic, offering very little for either the brain or the heart.

However, Richard Linklater’s trio of walking, talking character studies are a brilliant exception to the rule – movies which make us want to believe that we are eavesdropping on a wonderful on-off, long distance romance.

Part of the reason for this is, it has been developed and shot, almost ad-hoc, in real time over the course of 13 years and in collaboration with his actors.

Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy as Jesse and Celine encounter the realities of romance in Before Midnight, the third part of a film trilogy by Richard Linklater. Photo: Castle Rock Entertainment Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy as Jesse and Celine encounter the realities of romance in Before Midnight, the third part of a film trilogy by Richard Linklater. Photo: Castle Rock Entertainment

The story revolves around Jesse and Celine, played by Hawke and Delpy, who first meet on a train travelling from Budapest to Vienna. Upon arrival they then spend 14 hours walking the streets of the city before Celine has to get a train home to Paris and Jesse catches his flight to the States.

That’s the film. That’s the beauty of the film. It’s simple and effective. It allows them time to talk and allows us time to really get to know them. The film has a wonderful intimacy and naturalness about it that’s very hard to find in cinema.

As they explore the city, they talk about everything from music and TV to parents and their expectations of dating. Naturally sex rears its head and as they share their opinions on the world we realise they are falling deeply in love.

As an audience we too are swept up in the natural romance of it all. This isn’t sugar-coated Hollywood romance, this is so engagingly natural and believable you would swear you were witnessing an incredibly audacious fly-on-the-wall documentary.

Linklater developed these films in tandem with his two stars and their deep involvement shows. The dialogue is relaxed and reflect the everyday rhythms of conversation. They are not Oscar Wilde-witty but they are fun and unaffected.

We watch as they slowly reveal their characters and get comfortable with one another – and we watch them engage with the strange city around them. Nothing is hurried but equally nothing drags either – in fact all three films pass by in the flash of an eye: always a good sign.

Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy carry the whole movie and by the end we are willing them to go off into the sunset together. Thankfully Richard Linklater could see the potential for returning to this pair of platonic lovers but made us wait nine years before he reunited Celine and Jesse in Paris.

This is a romance in real time. Nine years have passed and their reunion is hugely entertaining and very emotional. Jesse is now in Paris to promote his new novel and Celine tracks him down, and the two embark on an 80-minute chat before he has to catch his flight home.

They click straight back into their easy bantering relationship and although they wander through many of the same subjects: politics and culture, aspirations and memories, relationships and sex, it is clear to all that time has passed. They have grown up. Time has marched on.

Jesse is still the charmer and Celine remains guarded when questions get too personal but their naturalism and their affection for one another shines through. It is a joy to be in the company of two such witty and charming individuals.

As with the previous film it is difficult to believe, as the credits roll, that the characters are not based on Hawke and Delpy themselves. The secret to these films success is that they contain both humour and pain.

They discuss subjects that we can all relate to. They are talking about life, about dreams and disasters. Linklater directs with a light touch. He appears to let the actors just get on with it; filming their conversations in long takes, following them with a Steadicam, trying to appear unobtrusive.

Finally in Before Midnight, Linklater reunites Jesse and Celine after a further nine years. Now they are together but they are concerned about their future as new jobs and children threaten to derail their previously light and easy relationship.

Of course, the story is not over and I am sure we will be back in their company after another nine years. This is class film-making and without doubt the greatest series of romantic films ever made. Trust me.

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