Before Midnight, screened at the 63rd Berlinale, traces the ups and downs in the Jesse-Celine relationship which began in Before Sunrise directed by Richard Linklater in 1995
When you think of a franchise, it is usually these mega blockbusters with superheroes or horrid, twisted films that spawn sequels and prequels — at last count there was Saw VI! One would have thought a love story wouldn’t lend itself easily to a sequel. Before Midnight screened in the competition section at the 63rd Berlinale proves that theory wrong.
Long ago, in 1995, American Jesse met French Celine on a train. The two spent a night in Vienna walking and talking and discovering each other. The movie ended with the two parting with a promise to meet at the same place six months later. That was Before Sunrise directed by Richard Linklater with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy playing the leads.
Nine years later, in 2004, the two reunited for Before Sunset. Hawke and Delpy reprised their roles and shared writing credits with Linklater. After Vienna, the third who walked with them was Paris. Jesse is married with a son, while Celine has a boyfriend. Jesse writes a book based on his time with Celine and comes to Paris on a book tour. He meets Celine but like the first movie, there is a time constraint as Jesse has a plane to catch. The film ends with Jesse at Celine’s apartment admitting that he might miss that plane.
And now in 2013, another nine years later, comes Before Midnight another instalment in Jesse and Celine’s saga. The two live together in Paris with their beautiful twin daughters. Jesse is guilt-ridden about not being there for his growing son. Celine is at a crossroads as far as her career goes. It is the last day of an eventful holiday in Greece and the couple are again walking and talking through the ups and downs of their relationship.
Like the earlier movies, the conversation is the strength as well as the weakness of the film. It is charming, honest, interesting and just a little dull — yes dull, but then even the greatest conversationalist would have off-moments right?
In the press conference after the film, Hawke, Delpy and Linklater tried to decode the fascination this couple has for cities and conversation. “We created these characters 18 years ago,” said Linklater. “And they haven’t left us.”
Talking about the process of collaboration, Delpy said, “It wasn’t necessarily me writing all the feminist stuff.” Linklater said it was a collaborative process as “there was the luxury of time”.
Talking about how much of themselves went into Jesse and Celine, Hawke (he has a rather bizarre hairstyle) said, “One of the things about working with Richard is you can blur the line between character and player. A large part of Celine and Jesse is Richard himself.”
Delpy chimed in rather poetically saying: “You take a seed of truth, which then grows into a tree of fiction.”
Talking about the seeming effortlessness of the performance, Linklater said, “It looks improvised but it is not,” and Delpy added, “The film is very written. I wish I could argue like that!”
Though Linklater did not want to commit on part four to the saga, saying he had “no idea what will happen in the future,” maybe we should let Celine and Jesse live out their lives in whichever exotic part of the globe they call home — for the next nine years at least!
The writer was in Berlin at the invitation of Goethe-Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan