The Before Trilogy (1995 – 2013)

★★★★ | by

Posted on Mar 14, 2021

© Castle Rock Entertainment | Columbia Pictures Corporation | Detour Filmproduction


This celebrated three-part romance captures a relationship as it begins, begins again, deepens, and strains over the course of almost two decades. Chronicling the love of Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke), from their first meeting as idealistic twentysomethings to the disillusionment they face together in middle age, The Before Trilogy also serves as a document of a boundary-pushing and extraordinarily intimate collaboration between director and actors, as Delpy and Hawke imbue their characters with a sense of lived-in experience, and age on-screen along with them. Attuned to the sweeping grandeur of time’s passage as well as the evanescence of individual moments, the Before films chart the progress of romantic destiny as it navigates the vicissitudes of ordinary life. Taken from The Criterion Collection.

Before Sunrise (1995)

A romantic classic, Before Sunrise brings together every young adults romantic dream; European love. Set over one day, a young American (Hawke) meets a beautiful, innocent woman (Delpy) on a train heading to Paris via Vienna.

To me, Before Sunrise is a love letter to both young love and the city of Vienna. Its filmmaking isn’t that of the high-budget romantic films of the era (I’m looking at you, Sleepless in Seattle), but immediately, its aesthetic is not important. This is a movie about two people falling in love. There is no alternative motive with the filmmaker Richard Linklater. It’s a romantic movie and it doesn’t try to be something different.

Character critic a subjective choice. Unfortunately I came away wanted to shake the character of Jesse for being so negative at everything. The character of Celine tried too hard to engage in thoughtful conversation only to be met with skepticism of Jesse. I’m sure I was like that at that age, but watching it as a close-to-30-something male, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Celine.

On the whole, the movie is a beautifully written romantic classic. The film puts perspective on the romance we may sometime forget in the day-to-day life and how much one choice can influence your life.

Before Sunset (2004)

As we jump nine years ahead in their story, we are blessed with another hour and a half of the story of Jesse and Celine. Jesse has written about their night nine years ago and as the book tour comes to an end in Paris, Celine surprises Jesse.

We see the characters of Celine and Jesse mature over the nine years. Jesse is a lot less cynical (thank God), and Celine is coming to terms with her missed chance at true love. Now, for me, the tables have turned. Jesse is now engaging to listen to, I want to hear about how his life has progressed. I want to listen to his perception on life. It’s a strange flip for me, but a welcomed one.

The film is set over a day in Paris, and the filmmaker has continued his styling choice of following them like a documentary film. It worked in Before Sunrise, and it works in Before Sunset. It’s script perfectly illustrates the difficult choices we have to make as we push through adulthood. The romantic choices we make, the road we go down as the possibilities narrow.

Overall, Before Sunset builds upon Before Sunrise in a way that’s the same, but different. It’s a perfect add on that wraps up some questions I had from the first, but opens up a new world of questions that keeps the engagement in the story of these two characters high.

Before Midnight (2013)

The completion of the story. The trilogy is complete and so are my questions. Before Midnight has its flaws. Unlike the previous two instalments, Linklater has decided to define these characters as neurotic people that still bring up issues from their past. It’s as if the first two romantic stories ceased to exist. It’s a disappointing conclusion for me.

It’s formula is by now predictable. The romance, the fallout, the makeup. It’s a traditional Western story that I expected more from. I expected the third to follow the same formula as the first two films. A romantic film about two characters. Unfortunately I felt we were given two characters who were airing out their dirty laundry.

It’s difficult to write this review without revealing too much. The trilogy is a worthwhile watch, and Before Midnight has some good scenes with some witty writing, it’s just on such a high pedestal due to the first two outings.


I’m definitely appreciating the Before Trilogy in times of isolation. It’s conclusion is perhaps disappointing, but a reminder that those around you are the most important. We can travel the world and see history, but that all means nothing if you can’t spend it with that one person who is just right for you. In Celine and Jesse, you see exactly that.

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