“BEFORE” TRILOGY. One of the greatest love stories ever told

The “Before” trilogy – Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy was made between 1995 and 2013.

Lukasz Budnik

1 August 2023

Every day can be the one that changes your life. Jesse and Celine’s ones turn 180 degrees in the summer of 1995, on a train traveling through Europe. He is heading to Vienna to return to the US from the airport there, and her destination is her hometown of Paris. The initial glances at each other over the book eventually turn into a conversation. They move to the dining car, where they discuss all the way to Vienna. There, at Jesse’s urging, Celine decides to get off with him.


Already at this point, both are aware that they have a very strong bond; much stronger than the standard when two people get to know each other. Leaving their luggage at the Vienna train station, they set off through the streets of the city. They are supposed to walk all night, after which there will be an inevitable time of parting and going their separate ways. The time limit and not knowing if they will ever meet again strongly affects the degree of openness to each other. Jesse and Celine clash with each other’s ideologies in life, smoothly juggling themes of love, death, religion, affection and understanding. His feelings have been hurt recently, and he views life and love with a cynicism that contrasts with her faith in people and their feelings. By constantly discussing, they often come to conclusions that are valuable for both of them.

Words work better than an aphrodisiac. Mutual desire grows with the passage of time and subsequent statements. There’s no hiding the chemistry and sexual tension; it manifests itself in the desire to touch, furtive glances and deep breaths. When the characters in the music store listen to Come Here on vinyl, the saying nothing, the smiles and wary glances – imperceptibly imperceptible to the other person, but certainly felt – say more than the romantic confessions they might make to each other.

The third hero of this story is Vienna itself. The places Jesse and Celine visit and what they encounter often provoke issues to discuss and fascinate. So there is a bridge where the characters meet local actors and get an invitation to their play. There is Kleines Cafe – this is where they drink coffee in the evening and meet a Gypsy woman who reads their palms, which leads to another clash of views. There is Albertina Platz, which offers a beautiful view of the Viennese Opera, where young people spend some of their last moments together, torn by the impending parting and wanting more. Finally, there is Cafe Sperl, where for the first time they tell each other directly how they feel about each other, albeit in the form of fake telephone conversations with friends.

I like to feel his eyes on me when I look away.

I can say from my own experience that all these places are magical in themselves, especially the aforementioned Cafe Sperl, where time has stopped, because today it looks exactly the same as in 1995. However, the film makes us understand that however beautiful it is given a place, the soul is given to it by those who are in it, in this case: Jesse and Celine. They and the city create a mutual relationship. Vienna gives them inspiration, and in return receives a kind of complement.

The heroes end their walk lying on the grass with wine. Mutual attraction reaches its apogee. The current that they let themselves in during their day together led them to an outlet for all the tension they had created through conversation and intimacy. A poet they met on a Viennese boulevard wrote about this current. He also mentioned delusion in his poem. Daydream. For Jesse and Celine, the day and night they spend together are like a dream that ends with the titular sunrise. It’s time to go back.

Perhaps to preserve the magic of this day, the young people decide not to exchange numbers and addresses. They plan to meet six months later in exactly the same place. They exchange a last, slightly desperate kiss. They miss each other already at the moment of saying goodbye, because the last, wonderful day made them get closer to each other beyond the norm.

They leave, lost in thought. They leave Vienna behind. They are sad but also full of hope. They will finally see each other in six months.


Isn’t everything we do in life a way to be loved a little more?


A bookstore in Paris, 2004. Jesse is promoting his book. He based the story described in it on a night spent nine years earlier with Celine. The meeting planned after six months did not work out, so he had no contact with her since then. However, her memory is very much alive. The ending of his novel is as open-ended as the actual story, which provokes journalists to guess what will happen next. Meanwhile, the sequel comes by itself. Jesse spots Celine in the bookstore.

Shock and joy. A face he hadn’t seen in almost a decade is now at his fingertips. There is no other option than to go for a joint walk through the streets of Paris after meeting with journalists. Earlier, Jesse is instructed by the manager that he has to go to the return plane soon. The pattern repeats itself, and the time to spend together is even more limited than before.

Still aware that Jesse will soon have a plane, the couple make their way through Paris. They walk the streets, stop at a cafe, spontaneously sail through the Seine on a tourist ship. Whoever thought that after all this time between these two would be at least a little awkward would be wrong. They talk as if they see each other regularly. It turns out that Jesse actually made it to Vienna six months after the first meeting; Celine wasn’t there because her grandmother’s funeral was taking place that very day. As time passes quickly, the couple wonder what would have happened if they had both arrived and how it would have affected their lives. The reality is that he has a wife and child, while she meets with a photographer who travels frequently.

It’s hard to say that they are happy in their relationships. They miss the warmth of the other person, the feeling that this is it. Their thoughts often return to the night they spent together, which causes even greater bitterness due to the actual state of affairs. Celine herself notes that it is downright wrong that the feeling of fulfillment is only achieved with the other person. It seems that having met nine years earlier, they set the bar very high for each other in the category of “soul mate”. Never after, and with anyone else, had they reached such a level of understanding and desire.

You can never replace anyone because everyone is made up of such beautiful specific details.

With every minute, Celine and Jesse realize that the feeling that brought them together was smoldering all the time and influenced their subsequent relationships. Being alone is better than feeling lonely with your lover, she notes, and he can echo her. They don’t feel lonely with each other. They never felt. Despite the fact that some of their characteristics have been transformed over the nine years, they still understand each other almost without words. The level of communication is so high that they flit around various topics without a moment of silence, sparing no sarcasm and subtle flirting.

There is less and less time until the plane leaves.

Jesse and Celine now know that they made a mistake in Vienna by not leaving each other’s contact details. The mistake of youth – they didn’t know then that people with whom you feel such a bond are not met regularly in life. On the contrary, it happens very rarely, and if you don’t take advantage of this chance, as Jesse states, you can miss it. That’s why he wrote the book. He hoped it would help him find that special person for him.

The sunset is approaching, the time when they will have to part again. Jesse drives Celine home and she invites him over. Once there, he decides to present him one of his works, which he writes as a hobby. It’s a fight, as it turns out. Walczyk about the very night he wrote about in his book. Jesse looks at Celine with eyes that say he’s making some decisions. And then he puts on Nina Simone’s CD and listens to his companion’s story of how she went to her concert. He watches her dance, smiles, unable to look away.

The plane is taking off really soon. Celine warns Jesse that she will miss her flight.

Jesse knows it. And he doesn’t mind.


Another nine years passed. Celine and Jesse are on a six-week vacation in Greece. He is now a famous writer and her career is at a crossroads. They spend their holidays with their two daughters and Hank, Jesse’s son, whom Jesse is dropping off for a flight to Chicago. Hank lives there with his mom much to his father’s displeasure. It is hard to say that he had a good relationship with his ex-wife.

After Hank’s departure, Celine, Jesse and their daughters return to their temporary residence – the home of another writer who invited them over for the summer. This time they are not limited by time; they live in a relationship, live permanently in Paris, it can be said that theoretically their dream from years ago is coming true. However, life verifies matters and the couple struggles with difficult issues arising from everyday life, but also from the past. Celine is worried about work issues and the fact that Jesse is often away from home for book promotions; it is on her that the burden of raising the twins falls. He, on the other hand, worries about being away from his son and the toxic influence of his ex-wife. He would like to move to the States, which Celine does not approve of, because it will give her even more responsibilities.

They spend their holidays with other couples – one is young and in the early stages of a relationship, the other is middle-aged and older but childless, and the other two are a widowed farmer and a woman who lost her husband. During a joint dinner, everyone exchanges observations and thoughts about relationships. They contrast their habits, acquaintance stories and views on love. This is the first time we see Jesse and Celine outside the bubble they were in in the previous movies. Some time has passed. They are far from a young couple getting to know each other on a train, and it is no longer a stage of finding each other after many years. The prose of life. Celine and Jesse see all these couples and realize the changes that have happened and are happening. This is summed up by the widow sitting with them, who says that although we are important to others, in fact we are no different from sunrise or sunset. We come and go. We are passing.

After the meal, Jesse and Celine are left alone again. They are heading to a hotel to spend the night there. Talking, they bring back old times. Influenced by a table conversation, Celine expresses concern about their relationship. He knows they are close, but they happen to be on different wavelengths. Evening is coming. After reaching the hotel room, they go to bed, but the sex is interrupted by Hank’s phone call, which in turn provokes the topic of Jesse’s ex-wife and brings everything that is bothering the characters to the surface. A brawl begins. Driven by their emotions, they start gruffly reproaching each other for everything they don’t like about each other. Disappointment with the routine and unfulfilled expectations towards himself and the present comes to the surface.

I fucked up my whole life because of the way you sing.

The quarrel, lasting several minutes, ends painfully; Celine tells Jesse that she doesn’t seem to love him anymore. She leaves.

He finds her outside in an outdoor restaurant. He takes out a letter and says that he is a time traveler, and that the words on the paper were written by Celine herself at the age of eighty-two. Although such fun is very much his style, Celine is not delighted, but he does not give up – he has repeated many times that evening how much he cares for her, how he accepts her weaknesses and sees the multitude of good qualities. Although they have said a lot of harsh words to each other before and have a lot to fix, there is no doubt that there is a chance for them to get out of this hole stronger and better. Somewhere deep down, they are still the people who got off the train together in Vienna and who couldn’t stop staring at each other on the streets of Paris.

Celine finally joins Jesse in his fun. There is a chance that before midnight everything will move for the better.

Three clippings from the lives of two people whose fates intertwined. Richard Linklater’s trilogy was inspired by his own experience  – he also met a woman with whom he spent long hours talking, so he knows perfectly well that finding someone with whom we have an immediately tangible bond is an extraordinary experience. It’s just as unique to experience movies where all the elements fit together just like the characters themselves. Excellent dialogues, co-created by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in the lead roles. Incredibly natural acting and chemistry between these two. Sometimes a lovely, sometimes a painful truth that we face when watching and listening to the conversation of the characters. One would like more, but common sense says that Jesse and Celine’s story is already complete. It remains to savor it again and again, and depending on where you are in life, each time you will notice something new. It’s worth noting one of the last issues in the trilogy.

This is real life. It’s not perfect, but it’s real.

It will always be just as accurate.

Łukasz Budnik

Lukasz Budnik

He loves both silent cinema and contemporary blockbusters based on comic books. He looks forward to watching movie with his growing son.

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