Storylines In Review
This site looks at popular storylines, covered in our various linked feature pages.
2017 Blog Posts continued
... When & Where Next Time?
Decision-time is approaching as to whether there should be another film in the ‘Before’ series, cinema’s longest-running scripted-conversation drama. And if there is to be another, what will the story setup and setting be?
The multi-award-winning low-budget independent film trilogy [1995-2013] explores one relationship over two decades; it occurs in real time in the sense the characters age at same rate as the actors. In Before Sunrise, the couple are 23; in Before Sunset, 32; in Before Midnight, 41. If the series continues, they will likely be age 50 next time.
Despite its cult following and
many awards, it was only recently released as a box set, this spring, by Criterion. The series
has been described as "the lowest-grossing trilogy in the history of motion pictures."
In other words, the sequels were made for artistic rather than the usual commercial reasons.
three co-writers of the ‘Before’ film series, director Richard Linklater and costars
Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, say they have an agreement they will get together 5 years after
the previous film to discuss doing another one. (Julie Delpy: "It's always like, five
years after the movie comes out, we start talking about doing another one.”) As the
last one was made in 2012 and released in early 2013, we’re approaching another deadline.
Will there be another sequel? And if so, what will the framework be? For each of the 3 films
made so far about Jesse and Celine has a different geographical setting as well as a different
The first film was written by Linklater with actor-writer Kim Krizan, and largely rewritten [uncredited] by Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, both of whom were also writers and filmmakers. (Linklater told the pair to 'throw out any line you're not comfortable with and rewrite the scene.') Despite any impression to the contrary, the films are all totally scripted and not improvised at all. Here, the protagonists, American wannabe writer Jesse and Parisian student Céline, meet on a train, and he suggests she should get off the train with him in Vienna so they can explore one of Life's great what-ifs:
Jesse: Think of it like this. Umm-uh, jump
ahead, ten, twenty years, okay, and you're married. Only your marriage doesn't have that same
energy that it used to have, you know. You start to blame your husband. You start to think about
all those guys you've met in your life, and what MIGHT have happened if you'd picked up with
one of them, right? Well, I'm one of those guys. That's me, you know, so think of this as time
travel, from then, to now, uh, to find out what you're missing out on. See, what this really
could be is a gigantic favor to both you and your future husband, to find out that you're not
missing out on anything. I'm just as big a loser as he is, totally unmotivated, totally boring,
and, uh, you made the right choice, and you're really happy.
Thus, after what must be the the most philosophical and forward-looking instance of what the industry calls a 'meet cute' setup scene, they spend a summer night in Vienna walking around and talking. When parting they agree not to try to keep the relationship alive by phone or letter as this is a poor substitute, but will rendezvous again in person in the same place if interested.
Jesse: What do you wanna do?
They then agree on six months, although viewers actually had to wait 9 years for the 2004 sequel, Before Sunset, to discover the outcome. Here, Céline shows up at a promotional reading in Paris for the novel Jesse has written about their one night together. As this 2nd film also has an 'open' ending, viewers had to wait yet another 9 years to discover via the 3rd film, Before Midnight, set in Greece, if their Paris reunion had turned into an ongoing relationship … It had indeed (complete with six-year-old twin girls), but this was now in trouble, it turned out.
|Before Midnight opens with
Jesse saying farewell to his 14-year old son by his previous marriage at the airport in Greece,
where he had spent his summer holiday. Now Jesse wants to spend more time with him, as he will
soon be grown up. Céline’s anticipating his suggestion she and the twins move from
their home in Paris back to the US for this purpose starts a major row on the last night of their
holiday, and she walks out on him. (Julie Delpy: “Celine … believes that if they
do move to Chicago, it will destroy their relationship.”) The climactic row in their
Greek hotel room, which took 5 weeks to write and takes up around half an hour onscreen, shocked
and depressed some viewers and reviewers, who felt the pair had finally come to the end of the
road after 18 years.
CELINE I have a
question for you. If we didn't have the girls, all our crap. Would we even still be together?
While doing PR for another film this summer, Linklater was inevitably asked “Do you have a clear idea what the future has in store for Jesse and Céline?” and he replied:
Recently [4 Aug 2017], Ethan Hawke gave an interview to the Independent headlined 'I have a lot of hope for Jesse and Celine' - Ethan Hawke Teases Fourth 'Before' Movie Sequel'.
Linklater chose two actors who are writer-directors themselves, to collaborate on the script. "I was looking for the two smartest, most creative young people I could find. Voila!"
Delpy: "I write lines for Ethan, he writes lines for me, Rick writes lines for all of us... The beginning of a line might be Rick’s, the middle is mine, the end is Ethan’s."
Hawke: "we usually, the three of us, have gotten together and figured out an outline of where the characters are right now and an outline of what the movie would be. Then we go off separately and write a lot and come back together and compare what we’ve written. And kinda take the greatest hits of everybody’s work."
The behind-the-scenes still above of the writing collaborative setup looks to be from the writing of the 2nd film, the 2004 Paris-set Before Sunset, illustrated below.
So a 4th film has not been ruled
out. The question is, where to next? The series concept is a bloc of intimate conversation, presented
largely as a walkabout in a different geographic setting, their time together constrained by
an impending deadline. In this series, we've already had Before Sunrise, Sunset, and Midnight,
so what deadline titles are left? Before Dawn? Before Noon? Before Tomorrow?
Later, in the bedroom, she tells
him "You're no Henry Miller - on any level." (Ouch.) One reviewer has suggested that
"you suspect Jesse will milk the relationship for a third novel - and it'll probably be called
Last Time." However he has already left this framework behind and at the writers retreat
in the 3rd film, we hear how his 3rd novel was more experimental, titled Temporary Cast Members
Of A Long Running But Little Seen Production Of A Play Called Fleeting, and he mentions
his current work-in-progress is a novel about a day in the life of a group of characters with
unusual perceptions of time and reality caused by brain anomalies. Céline also refers later,
during the walk scene, to short stories he has written.
The pending major issue here between
the duo seems to geographical - deciding where to live. (As the official website quaintly puts
it, "Geography weighs heavily on Jesse.") Each film so far has been set in a tourist
area - Vienna, Paris, and the Peloponnese - somewhere you can enjoy scenic walks as you talk,
walking and talking being the films' main physical activity. Delpy herself now lives part-time
in California, and has dual French/US citizenship, and Linklater says he thought of setting #3
in the USA, perhaps showing the couple living and working in San Francisco. ("We have to
think, where would she be able to get a job in her field that is fulfilling to her? And where
would he maybe, as a writer/teacher, where would he be? So, you think of places that could work.
We'd pick up with them on a Thursday - she's at her job, he's doing his thing, they'd meet in
the evening - what life is for a lot of people, domestic. And then we were like, 'That's kind
This place sort of reminds me of this film I saw when I was a teenager. It was a black and white film from the 50s. I remember a couple walking through the ruins of Pompeii, looking at bodies that had been lying there for centuries. I remember the bodies caught in their sleep, still lovingly holding each other. I don't know why, sometimes I have this image in my mind when, you know, we're asleep and you hold me.
This would be a reference to the 1953 Viaggio in Italia / Journey To Italy written [in English] by Vitaliano Brancati and director Roberto Rossellini, which French critics of the time like Truffaut supposedly proclaimed ‘the first modern film’ (whatever that means).
|A number of scenes in Before
Midnight echo those in the 1953 film. This has a well-to-do London-based couple (they drive
a Rolls-Royce), played by Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders, undergo a marital crisis during a
trip to Naples to sell off an inherited villa, this being the couple's first time alone (i.e. away
from friends – there are no kids) since being married 8 years before.
As well as a lengthy opening drive-to-the-villa scene, there is the villa stay, the dinner with friends, a visit to a church with ornate artwork, and conversations which quickly turn into the expression of longstanding irritations and dissatisfactions. The wife is suspicious her husband is interested in other women, and they quarrel and agree to divorce. They visit the ruins at Pompeii as the bodies of a man and a woman are being excavated, the sight of which upsets her. On the drive back, they are caught up in a religious procession, and in the crush they embrace and quickly abandon their planned divorce.
This is a rather unconvincing perfunctory ‘happy’ ending (the last line is “I love you”), and that of Before Midnight is closer to that of another Italian film, the 2nd in Antonioni’s famous 1960-3 ‘incommunicability trilogy.’ Set in Milan, La Notte dramatises the empty married life of a successful author and his wife, played by Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau, as it disintegrates following the death of a friend who had been the wife's suitor. At the end, she tells her husband she no longer loves him, then reads out a heartfelt love letter he wrote her long ago about watching her asleep, which he doesn't even recognise. ("Who wrote that?" "You did.") Linklater’s earlier Before Sunrise had an ending [viewable here] similar to the famous montage finale of the 3rd film in Antonioni’s trilogy’, L’Eclisse, showing the now-deserted street corners etc where the couple formerly met. In both cases, Linklater's use of similar motifs seems much more optimistic in context, almost turning them inside out to project hope rather than despair. Again, that suggests this is not "The End."
|Below: the finale of La Notte
and right, L’Eclisse. Linklater uses elements of both these, though inverting their implications
to imply a more positive outcome.
Above:  The scene in Viaggio in Italia where Mrs Joyce tells Mr Joyce how she still thinks of a long-dead suitor;  In Before Sunrise, Jesse and Celine's city walkabout is on June 16 - Joyce's 'Bloomsday.'
|Before Sunrise and Viaggio
in Italia also have a Joycean connection. In the latter, what sets off the conflict is the
wife's making her husband angry and jealous by telling him that on the eve of their marriage, an
unwell young man (here, a young poet whose lines of verse she has memorised) threw pebbles at her
window in the rain, and died soon after. This will of course be familiar to anyone has read Joyce's
short story The Dead, where this confession of a passion the husband is incapable
of forms the climax. (See our earlier post on this, here.)
In Viaggio in Italia, the couple's surname is Joyce, making this unlikely to be anything but self-conscious influence on the part of Rossellini and his co-writer. (They had wanted to base the script on Colette's 1934 novella Duo, but couldn't get the screen rights, and had to rewrite. Joyce of course wrote Ulysses in self-imposed exile in Italy, so there is an Italian connection.) Ethan Hawke says the Before Sunrise script Linklater had originally written with Kim Krizan "had a page and a half monologue of Jesse talking about John Huston's The Dead (1987)." This was cut, but the film is still specifically set on June 16, which Joyce fans know is "Bloomsday", the date when James Joyce first went out 'walking' with his future partner Nora, when Ulysses is set (over the course of that one day), and when literary fans from around the world take part in walks around Dublin to commemorate protagonist Leopold Bloom's wanderings. (There doesn't seem to be any explicit reference to Joyce. Just before the parting scene, Jesse instead does an imitation of Dylan Thomas reading the "And the years shall run like rabbits" verse from WH Auden's "As I Walked Out One Evening." See below - mouse over to see verse text.)
Above: Jesse and Celine watch the sun disappear in Before Midnight. The film's finale takes place at the same cafe on the quay, after dark.
'dying of the light'
He appears and he disappears like a sunrise
or sunset, anything so ephemeral. Just like our life - we appear and we disappear and we are
so important to some, but, we are just passing through.
This ends the scene, and the next scene, the 18-minute walk past the ruins and into town brings the couple to the seashore at sunset:
They arrive at the waterfront. The sun is now
setting over the ocean.
The 'waiting for the sun to disappear'
scene echoes the climax of a 1986 Eric Rohmer film, Le Rayon Vert (The Green Ray),
which Linklater presented at the Austin Film Society after it was reissued in 2015 under its
US title Summer, saying he saw the elusive green ray himself in Greece. This is an optical
effect also known as a green flash which sometimes appears, due to atmospheric refraction, for
a split second at sunset. Jules Verne wrote a novel about it, and in the film, which Rohmer cowrote
with his lead actor Marie Rivière, the protagonist Delphine overhears someone discussing it and
decides to try to see it for herself to jolt her out of her mood of boredom and impatience at
holiday affairs. (There is a folk belief that seeing it will enhance one's insights - as a character
in the Verne novel puts it,"when you see the green ray you can read your own feelings and
Above - Ingmar Bergman's 1973 TV serial Scenes From A Marriage ends on the reunited couple's 20th anniversary with her having a nightmare and being comforted by him on awakening, with mutual assurances of affection.
|As a writer-director, Julie Delpy
used a setup similar to the Before series (specific city locale plus tight time setting,
with both elements spelt out here in the title) for her own cross-cultural drama 2 Days
In Paris , about Marion, a French artist and her American partner, and its sequel
2 Days In New York, made 5 years later (no sign of a 3rd entry yet). Though the two series
are not that comparable, the "2 Days" films being much less romantic, she said using
a comparable setup was the only way she could get funding, and that was from European companies.
(Delpy: "there was no American money involved, even though it was filmed in New York.")
Here's her final monologue which concludes 2 Days In Paris, which might possibly indicate how the story of Jesse and Celine could proceed:
A Scandinavian setting could fit a theme of reconciliation for #4, perhaps with the characters going from a city to country locale, such as an offshore island. This was the sort of landscape used so successfully by Ingmar Bergman.
Above: Stills from Bergman's two 'summer affair' stories, Sommaren med Monika / Summer With Monika, 1953, and Sommarlek / Summer Interlude, 1951.
Left: The protagonist of Bergman's 1957 trip-down-memory-lane road-trip excursion, Smultronstallet / Wild Strawberries, recalls some youthful verse over lunch.
|Bergman films also often follow another storyline, the life-ending reconciliation, as in Smultronstallet / Wild Strawberries, Sommarlek / Summer Interlude, and Scenes From A Marriage, where the protagonists succeed in putting a troubling experience behind them so they can live out the rest of their days with equanimity. Luckily, there's no commercial pressure to conform whatever storyline is adopted to be more mainstream. While the more optimistic Before Sunrise was financed by Columbia in 1995 with a modest $2.7 million budget, the sequel 9 years later could only get the same budget; which of course by then bought a lot less, and not from Columbia but the now-defunct Warner Independent. (Delpy says her own agent fired her when she announced she was doing the 2004 sequel.) And notwithstanding all the awards and nominations #1 and #2 attracted, Before Midnight was turned down by the major studios, who (despite their enthusiasm for sequels) told Linklater they just don't make 'small' films any more. (The 2nd film made only £16m.) Thus, #3 was financed by a few private equity investors, plus some incentive money from the Greek government, and shot in only 15 days. One of the reviews headlined 'the dying of the light' referred to the way celluloid film itself is being phased out in favour of digital formats; but it may be that digital production is the only way forward for the independent filmmaker.|
Storylines In Review 2017