Few relationship movies are as unexpectedly impactful as Richard Linklater’s “Before” trilogy. Released nine years apart and dropping in on its main couple during vital points in their lives, Linklater’s meandering approach to these stories allows viewers to glimpse the inner workings of a relationship like never before. We unconsciously follow his couple, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy), as if they’re real people.
Speaking of which, Jesse and Céline are real people. After all, we’ve been able to eavesdrop on their relationship across three decades, starting with 1995’s “Before Sunrise.” In the first film, American backpacker Jesse innocently strikes up a conversation with French free spirit Céline as they travel by train to Vienna. Intrigued by his new friend — and uninhibited by a ‘why not?’ attitude — Jesse suggests they spend the day sightseeing and getting to know each other better. Cue: a day and night full of city wandering and casual conversation.
Like most Linklater films, “Before Sunrise” leaves you in baited anticipation for some big action scene to kick off. (We can thank mainstream cinema for that built-in expectation.) Thankfully, Linklater resists this notion, instead sticking to Jesse and Céline as they discuss everything and nothing while inadvertently falling in love. It makes for sweet and emotionally charged viewing, leaving viewers hopeful that the same impromptu situation isn’t outside the realm of possibility for us in real life.