Storylines In Review

 

This site looks at popular storylines, covered in our various linked feature pages.  
 2017 Blog Posts continued
Before ... 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.

The 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 story setup.
Generally, the films dramatise the ‘liberating relationship’ storyline which has been the backbone of romantic comedy since at least the 30s. However they take it beyond the slapstick antics and high jinks of the American romcom approach (cf Bringing Up Baby) or the melodramatic plot turns of the ‘weepie’ romantic dramas like An Affair To Remember. The writer-director Richard Linklater was originally inspired by the experience – not uncommon at university age – where you meet a kindred spirit – and possible soulmate - and stay up all night talking about everything and anything, on a ‘high’ of unprecedented conversational intimacy.
This of course doesn’t always lead to an ongoing relationship, though it remains a memorable experience, and that is indeed what happened to Linklater. The Texas-based filmmaker met his muse Amy Lehrhaupt on a visit to Philadelphia, in a toy shop, and the two twenty-somethings spent the night “from midnight until six in the morning … walking around, flirting, [talking] about art, science, film, the gamut.” But when they had to go their separate ways, the relationship fizzled out after a few letters and phone calls which didn’t provide the same buzz as the all-night conversation, and they lost touch.
In fact, this being the pre-internet 1990s, he couldn’t find her when he did try to track her down. He had told her he wanted to make a film about this type of breakthrough encounter [“I want to make a movie about where the only thing that happens is the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me which is connecting with a human being”], and hoped she might come to the premiere of Before Sunrise in 1995. It was only years later he discovered, from a mutual friend’s letter, that Amy had in fact been killed in a motorcycle accident on Brooklyn Bridge 15 years before, a month before shooting had begun on the first film.
By that time, the sequel had been made, inspired by what Linklater had still hoped would happen in real life – she would come to the debut of the work inspired by that one night together, and they would meet again. All this became the autobiographical basis of the first two films. Linklater would dedicate the 3rd film, Before Midnight, to Amy, as the inspiration for the series.

Before Sunrise


  Above: Amy Lehrhaupt, Richard Linklater's original inspiration
Before Sunrise

Above and below: Before Sunrise - meeting and parting scenes Before Sunrise  

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.
Céline: Let me get my bag.

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?
Céline: Maybe... maybe we should meet here, in five years or something.
Jesse: Alright, alright. Five years. Five years? That's a long time.

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.

 


Above: Before Midnight: the car and walk scenes; opposite, the hotel room scene.


Above: Linklater's original script collaborator, Kim Krizan. She teaches film and appeared as herself in Linklater's Waking Life [2001], classed as the first digitally rotoscoped animated feature. (It was shot on video and transferred to 35mm after the digital animation overlay was added.) This also has a scene with Jesse and Céline in bed together, continuing the sort of conversation they had in Before Sunrise, as if they had got back together after the first film - though it is set in an alternate reality, of lucid dreaming.


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?
JESSE What? I mean you are the fucking mayor of crazy town, do you know that? You are.
CELINE You know what I think? I think you need to move to Chicago. I think Henry needs you and I think I need to stay in Paris with the girls and take this job.

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:

That’s a tough one. It really depends. The movie is sort of a Rorschach test for friends who are like ‘Ah, me and my partner were gonna see it.’ I’m like, ‘I don’t know - are you guys okay? ‘cause I don’t recommend it across the board.’ People see that [ending] very definitely; people came out of that and said ‘I knew my relationship was doomed' and 'I think we should go ahead and break up,’ while others see it and find it very optimistic how they’re gonna persevere through their rough spots. So it’s just wherever your head is at any moment. You realise you know the perseverance of a long term relationship is just having to work through it if it’s worth it; if it’s not, you just have to walk away. It’s tough. You can look at it optimistically or pessimistically; it depends on your headspace.

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'.

Before Midnight is definitely the hardest of the films because both the other two films deal with romantic projection and the third film deals with romantic reality. I've always found it a deeply optimistic film because of how engaged with each they are. People often think that because people are fighting something bad is happening, and often times, the opposite is true. If I look back at my own life and I see the most hurtful, scratchiest parts, those are the parts where the most growing had happened. At the end of Before Midnight, I have a lot of hope for Jesse and Celine because at least they’re not living a lie - they’re engaged with each other.


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?
More substantively, what would the story setup be? The first film's setup was a fleeting holiday affair; the 2nd, a 'second chance' lovers reunion; the 3rd, an 'away-break crisis' turning into a 'marital breakup' situation. Any assumption the duo will continue to stay together for the sake of the kids is tenuous, as the usual gap between films is 9 years; this would mean that by next time, Jesse's son would be 23, and the twins would be nearing the basic legal age of adulthood at 16, and finishing school. A 4th film would probably be filmed just as the actors, and thus the characters, approach age 50, which suggests a psychological deadline of its own.

The 'second novel writers-block' crisis which afflicts so many writers in reality, and hence often forms a plot premise, is also not an option, for Jesse has already written his second, and third, novels well before the 3rd film. "The first one is This Time, the second one is That Time. …We've got a joke in our family that "This" brought us back together and "That" paid for our apartment." These first two were openly autobiographical based on his first two encounters with Céline, with explicit detail a la Henry Miller, to the point she is angry at the way her privacy has been invaded. ("if you want to know exactly what it's like to have sex with me, read away.")

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.
Right - Before Midnight, the final scene: Jesse catches up with
Céline and uses his literary imagination to improvise an imaginary time-travel-themed letter from the future to try to win her back. (And there we leave them, possibly for another few years, or possibly forever....)

 


The villa portraying the writers' retreat was the author Patrick Leigh Fermor's home outside Kardamyli, which since his death is now being turned into a literary retreat in reality. The host character called Patrick [left] is played by Walter Lassally, the Berlin-born English cinematographer who retired to Crete after filming Zorba The Greek there.

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 of depressing'.")
After deciding the workaday setup was too depressing, Linklater began scouting European tourist areas, and settled on the idea of a villa in southwest Greece used as a writers' retreat. (The villa was the author Patrick Leigh Fermor's home in Kardamyli.) Given that Céline's outright antipathy to moving to the US motivates the big row in #3, any US setting seems unlikely if the couple are to remain together for #4. ("You get all cute, you get in my panties and the next thing I know, I'm buying peanut butter in Chicago.") In #3, they have evidently been living in Paris since their 2004 reunion, with Céline working as an environmentalist and Jesse supplementing his writing income with some teaching at the Sorbonne. It's hard to see where the couple could go from here.
The autobiographical basis of the films has fallen away; in the most recent one, it seems limited to the car scene, where Linklater observed that the only time a couple can talk privately is when the kids [he too has twin girls] are asleep, in this case in the back of the car. (The 13-minute scene is there so necessary expository backfill details can come out in the course of a natural-sounding conversation, so that the audience can catch up on what has been happening over the past 9 years.) Even this choice may owe more to Linklater's interests in European film than autobiographical inspiration. ("I should have been a French film-maker in the late 1950s and 60s. I would have fit right in there.") There is a clue to this in the scene where Jesse and Céline are walking past some ruins, and she comments:

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:
[1] The scene in Viaggio in Italia where Mrs Joyce tells Mr Joyce how she still thinks of a long-dead suitor; [2] 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.


Above: the sunset-finale of Rohmer's 1986 Le Rayon Vert (The Green Ray)


Above: A Greek sunset [August 2016]

The 'dying of the light'
In the famous montage finale [see above left] of the 3rd film in Antonioni’s trilogy’, L’Eclisse [1963], the skies turn dark. It is left ambiguous as to whether the eclipse of the title is a real event being depicted, or a metaphor, with the darkness just being the normal dusk, symbolising the eclipse by modernity of - well, you name it. (What appears to be the sun against a darkening sky turns out to be a streetlamp, a CU of which forms the final image.) This 'dying of the light', to use the literary metaphor from Dylan Thomas for inevitable ageing and death of the individual, appears in the Linklater trilogy as well.
One of the key scenes in Before Midnight is the 'dying of the light', which was picked up by some reviewers as a story-framework metaphor for how a married couple have to fight against the natural dying of their original sense of romantic adventure. Here, it's shown literally as a watching-the-sun-go-down scene, whose symbolic aspect is set up in the previous sequence, at the end of their final evening at the writers' resort with a dinner conversation anecdote about how we are all just 'passing through' one another's lives. An older guest, the widowed Natalia, explains how she struggles to keep the memory of her late husband alive:

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.
JESSE (toasting) To 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.
EXT. CAFE - EVENING They are now sitting at an outdoor table with a couple of glasses of wine, staring at the last bit of the fireball, quickly disappearing.
CELINE Still there. Still there. ... Still there. Still there. ... Gone.
They sit in silence. Eventually, Jesse looks over at Celine and notices she's moved. He just takes her hand.

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 others too.")
In the Verne novel, the protagonists sail up the Scottish Hebrides to try to see the phenomenon, but ultimately miss it as they are busy gazing into one another's eyes when it appears. In the film, Delphine sees it from the French seashore while with a new companion. (Rohmer had no luck filming the real thing, despite sending a unit to the Canary Isles, and had to create the effect in an optical printer. I have to add I had little luck either capturing the moment clearly, either in the Hebrides [the sun barely sets there in summer as it's so far north], or in Greece - cf opposite, bottom left.)


Hawke and Linklater have said Ingmar Bergman's 1973 TV serial Scener ur ett äktenskap / Scenes From A Marriage "was the bar against which Before Midnight must be set." Perhaps they were just warning people to expect a serious marital-breakdown story, but does this offer any clues as to #4? There, the marital façade of a middle-aged professional-class couple cracks when the husband announces he is leaving for Paris the next day with his lover. He does, but breaks up with her and attempts a marital reconciliation. After a bitter row, husband and wife divorce and remarry, but then begin seeing one another again secretly. ... That does suggest a possible avenue for #4 - breakup and unsatisfactory tryouts with other partners, followed by final reconciliation.

 
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 [2007], 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:

MARION:
It always fascinated me how people go from loving you madly to nothing at all, nothing. It hurts so much. When I feel someone is going to leave me, I have a tendency to break up first before I get to hear the whole thing. Here it is. One more, one less. Another wasted love story. I really love this one.
When I think that its over, that I'll never see him again like this... well yes, I'll bump into him, we'll meet our new boyfriend and girlfriend, act as if we had never been together, then we'll slowly think of each other less and less until we forget each other completely. Almost. Always the same for me. Break up, break down. Drunk up, fool around. Meet one guy, then another, fuck around. Forget the one and only.
Then after a few months of total emptiness start again to look for true love, desperately look everywhere and after two years of loneliness meet a new love and swear it is the one, until that one is gone as well. There's a moment in life where you can't recover any more from another break-up. And even if this person bugs you sixty percent of the time, well you still can't live without him. And even if he wakes you up every day by sneezing right in your face, well you love his sneezes more than anyone else's kisses.

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.
 
 
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Storylines In Review 2017