A blustery winter evening rolls out the red carpet once more for the final evening of this 29th Annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival; with it a full house of folks stroll in for a special screening of Before Midnight (2013), the third in a trilogy of dialogue driven films directed by Richard Linklater, starring Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke.
Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004) were screened at The Lobero Theatre earlier in the day, allowing those unfamiliar with the first two films to catch up prior to the final film screening this evening. When the films' co-writer & director, Richard Linklater, took the stage and asked who’d seen the first two films yet had been waiting until tonight to see the last one, an overwhelming affirmative cry from the Arlington audience let us know they had all done just that.
The first film in the trilogy, Before Sunrise, introduces us to young Jesse and Celine as they travel by train toward Vienna. Jesse Wallace, played by Ethan Hawke, is a 23-year-old American boy, broken-hearted and aching with creative inspiration. Celine, played by Julie Delpy, is a 23 year-old French girl, a romantic yet leveled-headed passionate female protagonist. After striking up a conversation in the lounge car, Hawke’s character invites Celine to get off the train with him and spend the evening wandering through Vienna. She says yes…and low and behold, a two decade long saga begins.
The adventure that unfolds through all three films is altogether romantic, inspiring, deep, rich, and wholly authentic. Films so heavy with dialogue would seem to be droll and relentlessly uninteresting but the chemistry between Hawke and Delpy is invigorating, their conversations woven together seamlessly, diving into large topics, love, life, religion, with such intellect and beautifully written script. With a screenplay crafted by the director and two main actors, themselves, you would envision lots of improvising along the way, experimenting in the moment with the ownership and relative authority they carry in the project. However, we find out later in the evening that improv and ad-lib just didn’t work in these films. The actors spent countless hours rehearsing prior to shooting in order to stay entirely true to the meticulously written script. This meant utilizing takes of up to 14 minute in length, which may have been grueling to film, but were utterly captivating to watch.
As the credits rolled at the end of Before Midnight, four chairs were set on stage in front of us. Anne Thompson of IndieWIRE took the stage with director Richard Linklater, as well as Celine and Jesse themselves, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke. The two’s chemistry on stage was reminiscent of the that in the films, their real life personalities so similar to the characters they played in the movies. Ethan would interject regularly throughout the interview; Julie was resilient in her answers, selflessly self-depricating all the while. The moderator became invisible as the post film discussion was altogether enjoyable with the three principles bantering onstage.
What a treat it was indeed to have such a masterfully talented trio with us that night. Because the films didn’t utilize special effects or exquisite camera work, the writing, directing, and acting are really the whole package, and here we had all three of those integral pieces sitting in front of us onstage, jousting with each other, being silly and serious, entertaining all the while.
When Linklater was asked, “how do you wrangle these two,” Hawke interjected, “that’s just it, he doesn’t corral us, he lets us play.” This statement is a testament to the fluidity and beauty of the trilogy. If you haven’t seen them, you must. They can all be consumed in an evening; that’s how truly magical and enveloping they are. Before Midnight is an Academy Award nominee for best writing, and rightfully so. Treat yourself and see the films.
How fitting that the festival would come to a close with a film that wraps up a two decade long romance. Everything monumental must come to an end, and so another Santa Barbara International Film Festival draws to a close as well. With tributes like David O. Russell, Cate Blanchett, Oprah, Robbie Redford, Bruce Dern, Leo DiCaprio, and Marty Scorsese, 2014 will be a hard year to top. Best of luck SBIFF team, see you next year.