Directed by: Richard Linklater
Written by: Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy & Ethan Hawke (screenplay), Richard Linklater & Kim Krizan (characters)
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick and Ariane Labed
In the third installment of this nearly two decade-long project, Richard Linklater’s Before series has turned a somewhat quiet, romantic examination of gender into a violent tango. Calling the movies a battle of the sexes is wrong-headed, though, in that it assumes there are sides and that a viewer must choose one. On the contrary, these movies are all the more rewarding when observed from the middle, where Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) always end up meeting even though that middle shifts in every movie.
Before Sunrise, the first movie in this series, was an irresistibly romantic and ultimately sad story of one day in Vienna where two people quietly fall in love with each other and then go their separate ways. The second installment, 2004’s Before Sunset, has the two meeting up again nine years later in Paris, where wounds surface and the fate of their relationship is ultimately left up to the viewer’s preference. At least until now.
Jesse and Celine did get together at the end of Before Sunset, and they now have twins and live in Paris, though on this day they’re at the end of a Greek vacation. Jesse’s wife hates him and he feels guilty about not spending enough time with his son, but he went for it and he’s happy. What makes this installment the darkest in the (so far) trilogy, though, is that it focuses on Celine’s problems more than Jesse’s. Now that she finally got what she presumably wanted, and they’ve spent about nine years together instead of just two days, she is starting to question their relationship.
By the end, her plight evolves into a full-blown feminist battle cry, as she chastises Jesse for being the arrogant writer while she is left with no time to herself. Of course there is plenty of blame for each of them, but it’s hard to even call it blame when, ultimately, this is more of an intense quarrel than a modern rendition of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
As in the previous two movies, both Delpy and Hawke are terrific. Linklater loves movies set within a single day, and the extremely long takes in this movie keep the terrifically naturalistic feel of the series alive while stressing the passing of time. Every nine years we’re given a snapshot of these people’s lives as they negotiate their feelings for each other, and it’s just as fascinating to watch Hawke and Delpy grow with the characters.
There are times when I felt too aware that Jesse and Celine were acknowledging the past two movies. Those scenes are mostly in the beginning, and they’re minor annoyances, but they do hinder the idea of only visiting them once every nine years because we’re made to see it being slightly forced. However, once the two leave for an intimate evening away from the kids, tensions flair and both Delpy and Hawke rise to the occasion.
By the end, which isn’t a cliffhanger this time, it feels as if they’ve negotiated one of the most tumultuous encounters of their entire relationship, the kind of fight people can’t have more than a couple of times before calling it quits. There’s closure, but also plenty of room for another installment.