Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are together again in "Before Midnight."
Director Linklater, on set and on crutches.
The San Francisco International Film Festival closed May 9 with the second sequel to the landmark 1995 film Before Sunrise (Before Sunset came in between), which opened in Bay Area theaters today. In the original, Delpy and Ethan Hawke were starcrossed lovers who parted ways, but 18 years later they’re finally together and even raising a family, only to discover that domestic life isn’t always necessarily a happy ending.
In the other movies the question was, can Jesse and Celine make the most of the time they have together? But now it’s about their possibly having too much time with one another. How do you approach that?
Linklater: This one was tough. How do you make a film about people who have known each other 18 years? What comes next? These are technically romantic comedies, but they’re not goofy, and it’s a delicate process. The jumping-off point was the idea that they’re in paradise, and they have a lot of what of what they would have aspired to, and yet they’re still human.
Delpy: They have mundane moments when life isn’t romantic or glamorous. Sometimes the shit of life will overshadow the love you have.
Is it true you considered setting the film in San Francisco?
Linklater: That was an early idea, that what if Jesse was teaching here. I think San Francisco was one of the serious cities we considered. I would love to shoot here.
So many people say that these characters feel real to them. If they were an actual couple, and you met, how do you think you’d get along?
Delpy: I don’t know if I’d like Celine. She’s a little straight for me, a little too nice. She also has a more pragmatic sense than I do, because she’s not a self-centered actress/writer/director/composer. She’s like a normal human being. [Laughs].
Linklater: You’re French, so you would sleep with her husband, probably.
Delpy: I wouldn’t like to sleep with a writer. Too annoying. I do have things in common with her, though. Like, I’m French, and...that’s it.
The kids are not in the movie very much, but the characters are presented very much as parents. Was it hard to write about them that way?
Delpy: People who relate to the film say, great, finally a woman saying in a film that it’s not easy to be a mother. But it’s not the extreme opposite either, where she’s wanting to kill the kids. It’s complicated. All my friends, we all had kids at the same time, and I see the struggle we had in becoming mothers. It’s expected from women to just know how to do it, but it’s not something that kicks in.
Linklater: As Jesse says in the film, you get good at faking it. There’s one of those lines in the second film: “I feel like I’m running a daycare with someone I used to date.” I get that one thrown back in my face regularly.
There’s a reference in the film to Skype, which barely existed when the last film was released. It was kind of jarring, because we’re used to fictional characters being timeless, but this story has not stayed still.
Linklater: This film is really grounded in a certain contemporary reality in a way the others aren’t. You couldn’t end Before Sunrise the same way today because it would be unfathomable for young people not to exchange email.
Delpy: The whole mentality now is different. A friend of mine was angry because her boyfriend had never changed his relationship status on Facebook. He’s ten year older than she is, he never even thought about it. They broke up about it. It was just a few clicks of a mouse—it’s crazy!
Speaking of arguments, how about the one at the big climax? What did you draw on to write that?
Delpy: We were writing the ideal fight, something that just keeps calming down and picking up.
Linklater: I think the humor is the surprise element; what’s not funny to Jesse and Celine is funny to us, the idea of two people who really know how to push each other’s buttons. We were having a wonderful time writing it. We’d keep laughing but then think, is that awful or is that funny? I think it’s funny? Delpy: And awful! The thing about fights is that you hear things said and you think, that’s an awful insult, but it would be great in a film. I enjoyed writing the bits about her being annoyed that he’s a writer, because I have experienced that with people in my life. It’s not a pleasant thing to be with a writer.
There’s a joke in the movie about how people can’t keep the titles of Jesse’s books straight. Is that because fans often mix up the titles of Before Sunset and Before Sunrise?
Linklater: Some people don’t even get the “before” part. They’ll say “What was that movie, After Sunrise?”
Delpy: Even we do it. ...I’m sorry, but why is there a “Happy Birthday” balloon here? [Points to the balloon floating in the room.]
Linklater: I don’t know. It’s not my birthday. I came in and there was a balloon. There was a birthday card too. I was hoping for cake.
Before Midnight is now playing at theaters across the Bay Area.
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