Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight

Here's a trilogy of films about a couple of young people who happen to meet on a train and start to fall for each other in a short space of time. The films follow their path over the course of the next two decades, as they contemplate the meaning of life, existence, their place in the universe and the social constructs around the role of men, women and relationships.

Richard Kinklater (Boyhood, School of Rock, Dazed and Confused) directs and links up with actor Kim Krizan to write much of the storyline - and latterly, joined by the two stars. The two young people were Jesse and CĂ©line played by Ethan Hawke (Snow Falling on Cedars, A Midnight Clear, Boyhood) and Julie Delpy (Three Colours White, Killing Zoe, Europa Europa) and are largely the main players through the three films.

Before Sunrise is the start of it all when a couple meet on a train and experience an instant attraction. Instead of going their separate ways, they agree to spend what time they can together waiting for connecting transport in Vienna. The film then depicts their whirlwind love blossoming as they spend the rest of the day and throughout the night together, wandering the streets, until she has to get back on the train and he, a plane. They agree to meet back on the same spot in exactly six months.

Before Sunset catches up with them 10 years later in Paris, he, by this time a successful author, having sold the story of the first film's encounter, in the story, not for real! They spend the day together in Paris, catching up, we find out more details about what happened about the six-month rendezvous back in Sunrise as they reminisce and bump about in Paris together, only to have to part again (or do they?) when the successful author has to catch a plane. Again.

Before Midnight moves us on another 10 years and again, we catch up with what happened in the second film, filling in some gaps and this time, spending time with the couple - and others - on a Greek Island. The film, again follows through a day-in-the-life and lets the viewer catch up with, what is (maybe?) the last of the series of films. I'll stop there, having tried to use my words carefully so as to give a flavour of the chain of events, but not anything away that will spoil viewing. All I've given away really is that they're both alive over a couple of decades and still know each other!

What's different and nice about these films, raising them above the ordinary slushy love clap-trap is the way in which they are presented, filmed and most importantly, reliant on the script and dialogue. It's obvious throughout that the actors are given some freedom to ad-lib with the material, inject philosophy, meaning of life and love stuff - of which Woody Allen would be proud. The dialogue is snappy and engaging, so much so that it almost doesn't matter for a lot of the time which city or country they happen to be in! It reminded me also of the dialogue which might be written by Tarantino, where what people are saying is as important as what they're doing.

It does sometimes feel a bit like a tourist-office supported venture as they wander past famous sights and buildings, but it's never aggressive in that respect, more passive and in keeping with the nature of the story and films. It's refreshing not to have solutions and outcomes served up on a plate but rather engage the audience in imaginative work to create their own idea about endings - or new beginnings. The two actors have a real chemistry going on and that oozes out in almost every scene, whether they're in each other's arms or arguing about their differences. They have been cast well and warm beautifully to the task.

It is a series of films which could easily be passed off as romantic escapism, but they are much more than that, having something meaningful to say about almost every topic and theme under the sun, as well as the character's time and potential future in each other's lives. Good stuff, well produced, excellently performed - a thinking person's romantic trilogy.

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