Hey everyone. Michael Cusumano here. At the risk of spoiling the finale of my best of the year rundown I have only handed out one perfect "10" score for 2013 and that was in the review for Before Midnight. So when I had the opportunity to see star and co-writer Julie Delpy in person as part of the Reel Pieces series at the 92nd St. Y I jumped at the chance. For all you Before Trilogy obsessives, here are a dozen highlight discoveries from the evening:
1. The first thing I learned is that Delpy’s writing credits on Before Midnight and Sunset are not a courtesy toward an actor who improved around the edges of someone else’s screenplay. One only needs to listen to Delpy speak for a few seconds to realize her piercing intelligence is part of the DNA of the trilogy. The authorial voice is unmistakable.
2. On that score, Delpy noted that while she and Hawke were not credited as co-writers until Before Sunset they were also substantial contributors to Before Sunrise, a script that had numerous scenes left as TBD which were filled in by the actors. Delpy says by the time they started the second film in the series she and Ethan Hawke were experienced enough to know to obtain screenwriting credits.
3. Much like a Mike Leigh production, after extensive workshopping between director and actors the finished scripts on the Before films are tightly scripted, down to the dialogue overlaps.
4. When the two stars were first cast in Before Sunrise the script was more intellectual exploration than romance. The lead characters spent the film discussing, but not actually falling in, love. Once they started to develop the characters it became clear to all that the romance should take precedence over the philosophical contemplations.
5. The trilogy’s technique of using long interrupted takes with naturalistic, unrushed dialogue is incredibly challenging for the actors. The style doesn’t allow for the pace to be constructed in editing so all those decisions must be made in advance to prevent the scenes from being deadly dull, essentially “editing in rehearsal” as Delpy put it.
(Writers note: Julie Delpy was too classy to come right out and say this so I will: Her achievement is the equal of any performance released this year and deserves recognition as such. Because of the degree of difficulty described above, because of the unvarnished truth in her portrayal, and because the wealth of perfect choices she accumulated over the course of the trilogy makes the audience feel as if we know Céline as well as any film character we have ever encountered. And the same goes for Ethan Hawke too. Rant over.)
6. The idea to doing a sequel to Before Sunset only occurred to the trio after their unofficial reunion filming a segment for Waking Life.
7. Delpy is well aware that not everyone is pleased with Céline’s harsh behavior towards Jesse in Midnight, but it was important to Delpy, and to her two male co-writers, that Céline not give in easily. As Delpy puts it,
Woman have had to fight harder to get where they and achieve what they achieve, so I think for her it is a life and death kind of fight. Like she has to really fight to the end because if she loses, she loses everything she fought for all her life, and she loses everything her mother fought for all her life.
Despite this feminist subtext Delpy says in her experience the men she has spoken to are more forgiving of her character, while the women have come down harder on Céline.
8. The compressed timeframe of Before Sunset originated as a joke from Delpy that the film should include a real time start-to-finish sex scene. The joke faded but the idea of using a real-time structure stuck.
9. Despite the common perception that they each write for themselves, Delpy and Hawke contributed dialogue for both characters. Delpy says some of the most fun she has had as a writer was writing insults for Ethan Hawke’s Jesse to say to her character.
10. According to Delpy, Richard Linklater was partially inspired for the Before Trilogy by the way Truffaut would repeat characters like Antoine Doinel throughout multiple films.
11. They briefly considered casting a famous British actor to play Patrick, the old writer in the early scenes of Before Midnight, but it was decided it would be too distracting and would shatter the film’s realism. Linklater then hit upon the idea of using someone associated with film history but who was not recognizable, so they cast Walter Lasally, cinematographer of such classics as Zorba the Greek and Tom Jones. According to Delpy, his propensity for telling the crew how they could do a better job shooting the film did not make him the most popular person on the set.
12. Delpy, Hawke and Linklater had no idea what happened after the famous cliffhanger at the end of Before Sunset until they reunited to write Midnight. I asked Julie Delpy if she cared to share any of the rejected scenarios that were considered for the plot of Before Midnight and she told us that while the trio of writers agreed from the start that Céline and Jesse would be together, they toyed with the idea of keeping them separate for the majority of the running time as they each went through their mundane domestic routines and only revealing at the end that they were a couple. They quickly realized that while it was an interesting concept, it would never do to keep the central couple separated for so long.