The “Before” Trilogy Film Review

The “Before” Trilogy Film Review

By Dima Saqfalhait

I must confess I resisted watching this trilogy for some time. For some reason, when people get hyped about a romantic film I instantly get the assumption that it must be filled with love clichés. And who would want clichés about love? They are good until a certain age maybe, before the realization that all sorts of magic are fleeting sinks in. Well the three films, directed by Richard Linklater, trace just that, the evolvement of love and our perception of it across 14 years in the lives of Jesse, an American writer, and Celine, a French student then an environment activist. We meet them when they are 23 in Before Sunrise (1995), then at the age of 32 in Before Sunset (2004), and at the age of 42 in Before Midnight (2013). 

“Like sunlight, sunset, we appear, we disappear. We are so important to some, but we are just passing through.” Before Midnight

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With the absence of a traditional plotline in each of the three films, I think it is best to treat the trilogy as a one long film. Jesse and Celine meet for the first time on a train in Europe. Jesse is on his way to Vienna to fly back to the USA after spending a few weeks in Europe by himself following a harsh breakup, while Celine is on her way to Paris where she studies at the Sorbonne.

“After that breakup, I just wanna be a ghost, completely anonymous.”

Jesse, Before Sunrise

They instantly click (as people do in romantic films), and Jesse manages to convince Celine to get off the train in Vienna to spend the evening roaming the city with him before he is bound to travel back to America the next morning. This is how the story begins, two people meet and part only to meet again (then possibly part again?). 

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Photo 1: Before Sunrise

What I enjoyed most about these films is the dialogue. Jesse and Celine discuss everything in life: love, feminism, technology, ambition, past relationships, childhood memories, media and the list goes on and on. The conversations are so relevant that you can remember yourself having one similar conversation or another with your friends. Not expecting to meet each other again in the first (and perhaps second) film(s), they get very honest in sharing their life stories and views about life in general. 

Celine, the passionate activist says some memorable phrases about feminism like: 

“Feminism is made by males so they can ask the females to free their bodies.” Before Sunrise

“Most women who achieve anything in life, the first time you hear about them, they’re in their 50’s, because it was so hard for them to get any recognition before then. They struggle for 30 years or they raise kids and were stranded at home before they could finally do what they want. Actually, you know what? It’s kind of freeing. We don’t have to spend our lives comparing ourselves to Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Tolstoy…” Before Midnight

“I always feel this pressure of being a strong and independent icon of womanhood, and without making it look my whole life is revolving around some guy. But loving someone, and being loved means so much to me. We always make fun of it and stuff. But isn’t everything we do in life a way to be loved a little more?” Before Sunrise

And (while expressing her opinion about Americans): 

“Each time I wear black, or like, lose my temper, or say anything about anything, you know, they always go, “Oh it’s so French. It’s so cute.” Ugh! I hate that!”

But perhaps the most memorable phrases are (unsurprisingly) the ones about love:

“When you talked earlier about after a few years how a couple would begin to hate each other by anticipating their reactions or getting tired of their mannerisms-I think it would be the opposite for me. I think I can really fall in love when I know everything about someone-the way he’s going to part his hair, which shirt he’s going to wear that day, knowing the exact story he’d tell in a given situation. I’m sure that’s when I know I’m really in love.” Before Sunrise

“Even being alone–it’s better than being with a lover and feeling lonely.” Before Sunset

“I guess when you’re young, you just believe there’ll be many people with whom you’ll connect with. Later in life, you realize it only happens a few times.” Before Sunset

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Photo 2: Before Sunset

I am afraid I will spoil the films for you if I go into details about what happens later in the films.

What I enjoyed most about the films through is that they almost resemble a documentary on love, in the sense that they sound and look so real.  

The facts that the films are compromised mainly of long takes with a script co-written by the actors (in the 2nd and 3rd sequels), and are filmed in real locations, with the same actors across 27 years, contribute to giving the impression that we are eavesdropping to a real conversation between a real couple. You rarely take sides in an argument for example as both points of view always feel plausible (particularly in the last film). 

A person standing in front of a building

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Photo 3: Before Midnight

My impression about it being a sleezy romantic film perhaps was dissipated following the second film. I would watch the films again as I was too focused on the script that I did not notice anything else. For now I leave you with more quotes that I enjoyed but could not strategically situate in my review:

“You realize that most of the people that you meet are trying to get somewhere better, trying to make a little bit more cash, trying to get a little more respect, have more people admire them, you know…it’s just exhausting!” Before Sunset

“There are so many things I want to do, but I end up doing not much.” Before Sunset

“I’m designed to feel slightly dissatisfied!” Before Sunset

For more film quotations and recommendations, you can follow Dima Saqfalhait’s Instagram account @cine.words

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