What comes Before? – in praise of Linklater, Delpy and Hawke

I shouldn’t be writing this. I have a script to finish and despite a good day battling with it yesterday I remain significantly behind schedule; plus I am going out for dinner with my friend Kris tomorrow night which means my writing time is further constrained (although for good reason; Kris is always excellent company and despite the fact that we clearly can’t drink as much as we used to do, this never stops us from having a damn good try) and therefore I SHOULD NOT BE WRITING THIS.

But I am. To quote the Sweden-based musician and producer Dr Alban’s hit from 1992: it’s my life. (I’m not sure Dr Alban’s medical credentials stand-up to scrutiny – if you are stung by a wasp or contract a wasting disease whilst throwing scandinavian shapes in the heat of a Stockholm flesh-pit it is probably advisable to call 112 and not wait for the now distinctly middle-aged and seemingly unqualified “Dr” Alban to bound up in a pair of ridiculous shoes and offer you a plaster). I am minded to write a blog entry when I really don’t have the time so to do for one simple reason: I want to wax lyrical, I wish to proselytise, I wish to exhort you to watch the beautiful and brilliant work of Richard Linklater; in particular I want you to scrap all plans for the coming weekend, settle down on the sofa and watch all three of the “Before . . . . ” films on DVD.

I am sure you know all about these films already but if you’ve been reading the Daily Mail for the past fifteen years then let me give you the tiniest amount of context. The three films, Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and (finally?) Before Midnight are each set over a single day and feature two characters: Celine, played by Julie Delpy and Jesse played by Ethan Hawke. In the first film the pair meet on a train and decide to spend the night together wandering around Vienna. The subsequent two films explore their relationship at roughly ten year intervals.


I saw the Before Sunrise during my first year of university. The campus film society would weekly screen films in a large physics lecture hall. The seats were terribly uncomfortable although you could take advantage of the “writing shelf” (a term I have invented for want of a better description of the wooden surface on which young physicists would lean and scribble pictures of infinity) for hosting your snacks and drinks. The atmosphere was sterile and unbecoming but it was cheap and very near a bar so you could have a few pints both before an after a film with relative ease.  And so it was that one cold evening my friend Sam and I were in search of entertainment and we decided to see this film “Before Sunrise” that neither of us had heard of. This was one of our better decisions. The film was a revelation: two young, attractive and clever people wandering around a beautiful European city just TALKING (alright there is a bit of snogging and sexy fumbling but it amounts to very little) and very little else. This was a humane, funny and utterly convincing portrait of a relationship and one portrayed without pretension or filmic film-flam. I loved every second.

This clip says everything you need to know:

The acting is that scene is sublime. I like to think that I rushed back the next night to the lecture hall and watched the film for a second time. However, I don’t think this can be true as films were only shown once a week but whatever the truth, I do remember telling everyone who would listen (and many that wouldn’t) that it was a masterpiece and they should see it. Hopefully some did.

Ten-ish years later, Linklater directed Delpy and Hawke in the sequel, Before Sunset. This time the two characters meet in Paris and much the same thing happens as before, i.e. they walk around the city and talk. But the conversation is different this time; it is pricklier, older, each of the characters being a little more bruised and battered by experience than in the early flush of adulthood explored in the first film. Linklater’s direction is once again flawless, much of it composed of long takes in which he maintains a two-shot from the front or behind and lets the characters just talk. It is beautifully simple. Beautifully simple and very hard to do as Chris our DOP on High Tide will attest – although to be fair to Chris the pavements of Paris are, I’m sure, rather easier to navigate with a Stedicam rig than the paths of Rhosilli or Port Eynon.

Before Sunset also has one the very best endings of any film ever. That’s right, EVER. And if you don’t believe me then ask Professor Rob Stone PhD and he’ll back me up. And he knows a LOT about film. And has met Richard Linklater. So there.before_sunset

Earlier this year, Linklater released the third part of the now-trilogy Before Midnight. I won’t say too much in case you want to do the sensible thing and watch all three in sequence, suffice to say that Jesse and Celine are now another decade older and their conversations (this time in Greece) reflect another ten years worth of living with all its concomitant scars, ticks and ingrained insecurities. And it is another masterpiece. Linklater’s direction reaches another level altogether, not least in the fifteen minute shot that takes place near the beginning of the film. Fifteen minutes, one static camera mounted on the bonnet of a car, no cuts, no edits and our two characters talking. If this sounds hateful and pretentious then let me assure you that it is precisely the opposite; if it sounds dull then you should probably look elsewhere for your filmic kicks, and probably read a different blog.

It is not hard for me to understand why these three films have so consistently moved me over the years. It isn’t simply because I quite fancy both Delpy and Hawke (come on, they are LOVELY) but also, I am sure, because I saw each at roughy the same age as the characters portrayed and in each film and they really could have been, at times, talking about my life (to return to “Dr” Alban territory). This may sound trite but for all the wonder of far-off fantasy, of dragons and spaceships, of car chases and exotic cities lit up against the night sky like a billion fireflies, the stories that pitch themselves closet to your own heart are often the most profound. They are the ones that remain when others have faded. They are the films that become yours.

Great writing, superb acting, brilliant direction, for Jimmy and me the “Before” trilogy is everything to which we aspire as filmmakers. And we are very grateful they exist.


Right, I must get on. I really must.



8 thoughts on “What comes Before? – in praise of Linklater, Delpy and Hawke

  1. Oh man, I know I’ve previously commented on the end of Before Sunset (truly it is one of the best endings, ever), but I MUST comment again. You’re killing me with this post, because this past weekend I downloaded all three films onto my laptop to watch with a friend during a weekend getaway. It didn’t happen, and now I must find the time to re-watch the first two before finally seeing the last one. (I’m thrilled it’s getting such great reviews.) The clip you posted is so excruciatingly awkward and romantic and lovely. The movie captures that time of life so well. “The dream of the 90’s is still alive” in Before Sunrise, to be sure!

    The only other ending I’ve seen that rivals Before Sunset’s comes at the end of the epic Italian mini-series The Best of Youth. It’s achingly beautiful and surprising and natural, all at once. Have you seen it?

    (And pardon the excessive use of adjectives in the above comments!)

    • The dream of the 90s indeed!

      I have not seen or heard of The Best of Youth but I will definitely investigate now I have your recommendation.

      I hope you find time for watching the films very soon indeed. I think I might watch the third one again this weekend such is its brilliance.

      Hope you are well Julia.

  2. How lovely to read your thoughts on these films, James! They are, of course, my all-time favourites, occupying the 1 to 3 slots in no particular order, although, like you, it helps if you first saw them in that order and at the times when they corresponded roughly to ones own experiences of life, love and all the spaces in between that are filled with great films. Thanks too for the mention 😉 Linklater, you might like to know, is the coolest guy I’ve ever met; but not cool in a poseur way, just content, confident and generous; he turns up at midday wearing shorts to work at the film studios he built himself and, you know, he has Julie Delpy’s phone number too, so there’s that. I spent two days with him in Austin and we talked about all his films but getting him to answer all my questions about the ‘Before’ films was an out-of-body experience. Can I send you a copy of my book on his films? It came out in June this year and to celebrate my wife and I went to Vienna. We were there on the 16th of June, Bloomsday. Same day as ‘Before Sunrise’ and we explored the city on foot, visiting most of the places that Jesse and Celine went (spoiler: they cheated with the cemetery of the nameless as it’s way out of town and they’d have needed a couple of buses or a taxi that was prepared to wait for them and…Stop! Okay, I’ll stop). We ended the day by seeing ‘Before Midnight’ in a Viennese cinema so, as Bill Murray says in ‘Groundhog Day’, “THAT was a pretty good day. Why couldn’t I have THAT day?” Here’s a short film I made about it, that you might like: https://vimeo.com/71206463
    And incidentally, I don’t think ‘Before Midnight’ is the end. I think they’ll meet again in nine years time and I think I also know how….but I won’t say here. REALLY looking forward to seeing ‘High Tide’ too. All the best!

    • Thanks for taking the time to write Rob.

      I really enjoyed your short film; what a great thing to do. And on Bloomsday too – maybe my next post should be in praise of James Joyce.

      Clearly I am very jealous of your time with Linklater; I am glad he is such a decent chap – one always wants to think the best of your heroes. He sounds brilliant.

      I would be delighted to read your book. That would be fabulous. I will ask Jimmy to email you my address.

      Thanks again for reading. Hope you are very well indeed.

      Best wishes, Jim

  3. a very good read. Loved the Dr Alban, its my life. Can hear it in my head. Thanks for that. I feel a tad old now. lol I loved these films although I had no idea it was a trilogy and so I must must must see the last one now. I feel like having an all nighter. It was one of those films (both) that made you want to curl up and absorb the whole feel and fall in love with those two for truly it was one of those things where you were barracking for their love to bloom. Thanks for taking the time out to write. Loved it. Hope you take a look at my blog. Just started. Thanks

  4. The Before Trilogy: Review | Dirty Laundry

  5. That was the Two Thousand and Thirteen that was – James Gillingham - Long Arm Films

  6. Boyhood and the exquisite pleasure of now – James Gillingham - Long Arm Films

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s