The Santa Barbara International Film Festival is preparing a fun evening for fans of Richard Linklater’s “Before” trilogy. On Sunday, February 9, the closing night of the ten-day festival, stars Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, along with director Linklater, will sit down for a Q&A at the Lobero Theatre, along with a first-time ever showing of the triple feature of all three films, “Before Sunrise” (1995, Columbia/Castle Rock), “Before Sunset” (2004, Warner Independent) and “Before Midnight” (Sony Pictures Classics).
It’s been tough for Sony Pictures Classics to wrangle permission to screen all three movies because they boast different distributors. One reason that the critically hailed third film in this trilogy (98% on Rotten Tomatoes), while it quadrupled the gross of its predecessors, didn’t do even better at the domestic box office ($8 million to date) is that many viewers had not seen the first two art house hits.
This year’s installment in the series “Before Midnight” not only landed on many Top Ten lists but scored awards and nominations with various critics circles around the country. So far it has nabbed wins from the Austin Critics Circle (not surprising, as Linklater is a Texas native) and the Boston, LA, San Diego and Chicago critics, with nominations from the Golden Globes, Indie Spirits and Gothams.
“This trilogy creates one of the most authentic portrayals of love on the screen,” said SBIFF Executive Director Roger Durling, “and it’s an undeniable gift to be able to experience all three movies in one day as well as to host its three talented creators.”
In “Before Sunrise,” Hawke and Delpy first portrayed Jesse and Celine who make their first romantic encounter on a train and decide to spend the whole day together in Vienna with the chance of never seeing one another again. Nine years later the sequel “Before Sunset” brought Jesse and Celine together by chance in Paris. The film, which was co-written by Hawke, Delpy and Linklater, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.
The magic alchemy originally conjured 18 years ago by Linklater and two gifted actors, who could sustain scenes across lengthy uncut takes, finds its third iteration in “Before Midnight,” as 40ish articulate couple Jesse and Celine vacation with their four-year-old girl twins. Over the fading days of a halcyon Greek vacation, they hash out all the issues in their unmarried relationship, first in a sublimely executed long take car shot, next over dinner with friends (shot with multiple cameras), and finally at a resort hotel, where they try to ignite some romance.
The American expat writer (Hawke) and his French environmental activist partner (Delpy) clearly love each other, but the issues that trouble them–custody battle over his son with his ex-wife, child care and housekeeping, sex, career vs. career–threaten to topple the relationship.
Linklater and these deft comedic actors keep things moving, with plenty of laughs and moments of painful recognition. The film never drags: the long-take narrative keeps us engaged and stimulated by its man vs. woman debate for the ages–full of regret, anxiety, love and intimacy. It’s the real deal. As one of them says, when it comes to marriage, “you have to be a little deluded to stay motivated.”
“We realized the characters are still alive,” said Linklater said at Sundance. “We know each other real well. I’m always going for naturalism, workshopping it, scripting very specifically, going for the flow.” Delpy says they rehearse a lot and change the lines to make them work. On every film they dig a little deeper into the characters by writing them. While both actors deserve acting nods and Linklater directing recognition, I suspect that it will be the Academy writers’ branch that rewards them with an adapted screenplay nomination.
Getting the jump on Santa Barbara in New York, the Film Society of Lincoln Center will screen all three films from January 3-9 in a series entitled “Celine and Jesse Forever.” To completists’ delight, FSLC will also screen Linklater’s 2001 rotoscope-animated “Waking Life,” which features a vignette with the beloved screen couple.
TOH! interviewed Delpy, Hawke and Linklater here.
Below, trailers for all three films.