Speculation amongst film scholars, fans and critics as to whether there will be a further sequel to The Before Trilogy (Before Sunrise 1995; Before Sunset 2004; Before Midnight 2013, dir. Richard Linklater) has both intensified as the nine-year gap between these films and a possible fourth film draws in, and been diverted into ideas of how Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy) might be coping with the global lockdown occasioned by the pandemic. Frequently questioned in interviews such as those carried out on 30 April and 12 May 2020 by Cameron Bailey for TIFF Originals’ Stay-at-Home Cinema with Hawke and Delpy respectively, the actors have remained non-committal and even dismissive (See Hawke: https://www.youtube.com/watch? v=QU7swrG4mcU and Delpy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=50_1zPwlciE). Nevertheless, these interviews for TIFF, which took place before online screenings of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset respectively, offered evidence of how Hawke and Delpy were coping with the pandemic and therefore invited consideration too of the condition of the characters with whom they are so indelibly associated. Before the End responds to the demand of the fanbase for a fourth film in the Before saga by cutting together the shots of Hawke and Delpy listening to questions and responding to Bailey’s comments as if they were engaged in a video call from their respective locations during lockdown. The intention is to suggest Jesse and Céline as I had already imagined they would be around now in Walk, Don’t Run: The Cinema of Richard Linklater (2nd edn. 2018), “on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean and in a losing battle against nostalgia that will be in its final stages” (2018: 136). Before the End is meant to suggest how these characters, rather than just the actors, are separated from each other by the lockdown demanded by the pandemic. On a transatlantic video call, it seems, Jesse and Céline now observe and avoid each other in looks and gestures that recreate as a video call the most beloved scene in the original trilogy, that of Jesse and Céline in the listening booth of the Viennese record store in Before Sunrise. To this end, Before the End purposefully reprises the song that is used in place of dialogue in that scene, ‘Come Here’ by Kath Bloom, which now has added poignancy due to the separation of Jesse and Céline that is underlined by the medium of the glitchy video chat.
By these means, Before the End seeks to engage with the demands of the fanbase, the persistent association of the actors with their roles, and the ethos of the saga, namely the idea expounded by Céline in Before Sunrise that “If there's any kind of god it wouldn't be in any of us, not you or me but just this little space in between. If there's any kind of magic in this world it must be in the attempt of understanding someone sharing something. I know, it's almost impossible to succeed but who cares really? The answer must be in the attempt.” Extrapolated to suggest the impact and context of the global pandemic, this attempt to close the little space in between people is, of course, massively exacerbated by the conditions of their respective lockdowns. How does one share something in a world defined by physical distancing that is as yet without the 'magic' of a vaccine? At the same time, the recognisable protagonism of Jesse and Céline responds to the persistent demands of fans, many of whom are in lockdown too, while also suggesting the legacy and even responsibility of film in general and this series in particular to bear witness to what is happening at the moment in a way that actual film production is struggling to manage by conventional means. As its title suggests, Before the End is pessimistic about the relationship between Jesse and Céline but optimistic about an end to the pandemic, even though as of writing there is no vaccine and deaths in the US near 290,000 while those in the UK are over 60,000. Thus, the video ends with a resigned and abrupt wave from Céline-Delpy and a moment of seeming regret from Jesse-Hawke that is wholly in line with their characters, answering the oft-asked question of where they are now, which is separated, of course, but still longing.
The footage of both Q&As was downloaded from YouTube and edited with Final Cut Pro. All scenes of dialogue were excised and the silent shots of Delpy from the 12 May Q&A were lined up alongside those of Hawke from 30 April. Jump cuts between this footage were paper tigers, only confirming the medium of the video chat for this reunion, while the fluidity and realism of the piece was nonetheless enhanced by a few freeze frames and the addition of occasional pixellation that attempts to represent an experience of the pandemic that plays up our dependency on online communication. And essentially, this fan’s attempt to close the space between now and a much-missed but open-ended film saga that may have ended in 2013 struck a nerve of sorts when it went viral at the end of May 2020 after I posted it on a Facebook site dedicated to the Before trilogy (https://www.facebook.com/groups/sunriseandsunset) and it was tweeted by the B-Film research centre at the University of Birmingham. Picked up by numerous film magazines and newspapers worldwide, including several from Spain, Russia, Brazil, Ghana, Greece, Brazil, Italy, the Phillipines, Taiwan and Iran, Before the End was the subject of an article on Indiewire (Sharf 2020) that helped the video accrue over 70,000 complete plays on Vimeo before being downloaded and re-uploaded to other platforms in China, Korea and elsewhere that allow for myriad comments but disallow any statistical information.
Sharf, Zack (2020) ‘The ‘Before’ Trilogy Continues in Quarantine with This Lovely Fan-Made Short Film’, Indiewire, 28 May. Online: https://www.indiewire.com/2020/05/before-trilogy-quarantine-fan-short-film-1202234024/.
Stone, Rob (2018) Walk, Don’t Run: The Cinema of Richard Linklater, New York: Columbia University Press, 2nd edn.
Professor Rob Stone is Professor of Film Studies at the University of Birmingham. He is the author of Spanish Cinema (Longman 2001), The Wounded Throat: Flamenco in the Works of Federico Garcia Lorca and Carlos Saura (Edwin Mellen 2004), Julio Medem (Manchester UP 2007) and co- author of Basque Cinema: A Cultural and Political History (Bloomsbury 2016) and Cine Vasco (2016). He has co-edited The Unsilvered Screen: Surrealism on Film (Wallflower 2007), Screening Songs in Hispanic and Lusophone Cinema (Manchester UP 2013), A Companion to Luis Buñuel (Blackwell 2013), Screening European Heritage (Palgrave 2016), The Routledge Companion to World Cinema (Routledge 2017) and Sense8: Transcending Television (Bloomsbury 2021).. He is also the author of Walk, Don’t Run: The Cinema of Richard Linklater (Columbia UP 2013, 2nd edn. 2018) and he features on the Criterion blu-ray release of The Before Trilogy (2018).