Directed by Richard Linklater, “Before Midnight” completes a trilogy begun nearly 20 years ago, rounding out one of the greatest love stories ever in movies.
The first in the series, 1995’s “Before Sunrise,” tells the story of an American boy (Ethan Hawke) and a French girl (Julie Delpy) who get to know each other over the course of a day, walking around Vienna.
In 2004, “Before Sunset” depicted their eventual reunion, during a hurried couple of hours in Paris. Older and wiser, they have accumulated baggage.
In “Before Midnight,” Jesse and Celine are more permanently connected, working on maintaining their relationship and heading toward middle age. This time they’re visiting Greece, Jesse is a successful author, but both have changes they would like to make.
“This was the hardest one,” said Linklater, in The City with Delpy last month for “Before Midnight’s” screening at the S.F. International Film Festival. “It’s a tougher stage in life to depict. They know each other so well. What’s there to reveal to an audience?”
For Linklater and his collaborating lead actors, the process of writing the “Before” movies takes a long time, even years for initial ideas to emerge.
Next, according to Delpy, the trio works on the backstory. She says, “That takes two or three years before we start writing. It doesn’t even feel right to go there before then.”
“We kind of knew early on what it shouldn’t be,” says Linklater, “but then the specifics of that took a while to figure out. We could have an idea for months and months and then let it go. But none of that time is wasted. We’re digging deeper.”
Linklater, Delpy and Hawke — who received a joint Oscar nomination for the second movie — created the first movie the same way, though Delpy and Hawke did not get writing credit.
“I spent 11 days working on that initial, blueprint script, and then we spent three weeks, plus the whole shoot rewriting,” says Linklater. “When I think of that movie, I think of the three of us.”
Involving actors in screenplay writing makes for a better movie, says Linklater: “The performances wouldn’t have been as good if they’d just shown up on the set, hit your mark and say your line.”
With the gift of time, the new movie is even more profound than its predecessors. “The other ones are about connecting, reconnecting, flirting. It was pretty simple,” Delpy says. “It’s totally different now.”