There is a recent and very interesting exception, though, and it is the “Before” trilogy by American director Richard Linklater.
Linklater (from Houston, Texas, born 1960) wrote and directed three movies, with the same two actors, at a distance of 9 years from each other: the first one, Before Sunrise, in 1995, the second one, Before Sunset, in 2004, and the last one now, in 2013, Before Midnight.
The three movies tell the story of a meeting between two characters and the consequences of it all along their life: the American Jesse (played by Ethan Hawke) and the French Céline (played by Julie Delpy) meet by chance in a train when they are 25 years old. She is going back to Paris, he is going back to the States, they start talking, they like each other, and they decide to spend the rest of the day (and the entire night) together in Vienna. When they separate, they make a mutual wish: to see each other in six months time, in that same place (please remember we’re talking about an Internet/Facebook pre-era).
We see them again 9 years afterwards, in Paris.
Jesse is a writer and he is in Paris to present his new novel (about his meeting with Céline). When she shows up at the bookshop where the presentation is taking place, the perfect chemistry between them is still there, palpable. We find out that at the famous second meeting he was there but she wasn’t. Her grandma died and she didn’t have the possibility of informing Jesse about it or even to find him. Their lives, in the meantime, have changed: he is married and has a little son, she works for an environment protection organization and had many boyfriends, but not a stable relationship. At the end of this second episode, it is pretty clear there are strong chances that this time they’re not going to separate so easily.
As it was the case for the other two episodes, also this one covers 24 hours of their life. Jesse is having troubles managing his relationship with his teenage son who’s living in the US, while he lives in Paris with Céline and their daughters, and Céline is worried that he wants to move back to the States. In the long scene at the core of the movie, the two have an enormous fight during which all the “pending matters” between them come to light, obliging them to look where they really are as a couple.
I really think this trilogy is a unique case in cinema history.
One of the most interesting elements is that the screenplay and the dialogues have been written by the director together with the two actors (even if they’re not credited for Before Sunrise) and the quality of their writing is absolutely amazing (it is not by chance that Before Sunset had received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay in 2004).
While filming Before Sunrise, none of them thought about a sequel, but when Linklater asked Hawke and Delpy to participate to his experimental movie Waking Life in 2001, using the characters of Jesse and Céline, they all started to think about a possible follow-up to their adventures. The three of them admitted to have put in this story a big part of their personal life and experiences, and this is probably where the veracity of tone comes from. Jesse and Céline are extremely real in their way of being: at 20 they are very romantic and idealists, at 30 they start to realise what they really want (and how much they’re going to pay for it) and at 40 they have to deal with the deceptions of day-by-day life, the burden of responsibilities coming from being parents and the ageing issues.
I have always hated the notion of generational movie, but I have to admit that I completely identify myself in this trilogy (I was born three days before Julie Delpy…).
Jesse and Céline talk about their lives in the same way we talk about ours: with that indefinable mixture of irony, disillusion, sadness and hope we daily use to face our existence. We share with them the same questions, doubts and fears and we feel relieved to see that they’re struggling on screen as much as we do to arrive safe and sound at the end of the day.
I don’t know about you, but I personally wouldn’t mind getting old together with these two.