Antoine Doinel films, or the BBC's Up documentaries, each film was made almost ten years apart (so spanning nearly twenty years) using the same characters/actors, which is the time span I watched them in, but watching them back to back is equally rewarding. I think I responded to them so much because Jesse, played by Ethan Hawke, is the same age as me so its been interesting watching him age in the films the same rate as myself.
All three films are simplicity itself, consisting of nothing more than the two main characters walking around, talking about the meaning of life, flirting, loving, arguing. But herein lies their beauty, especially in the age of the mindless, CGI-laden blockbusters, the films come across as a breath of fresh air, and more akin to European cinema, in particular the films of Eric Rohmer. The three films have an intimacy, warmth and natural realism that's never mawkish. There's something innately cinematic about them too, perhaps surprising with their lack of special effects or flashy camera angles. I think it's about observing their relationship grow on screen and the cinema being a place of intimacy (all three films have been written by the director in collaboration with the two leads). With each successive film it's like catching up with old friends, and spending time with them is always a delight.
The first film, Before Sunrise, has the two attractive leads, American Jesse and French Celine (played by Julie Delpy), meeting on a train and deciding to disembark in Vienna to spend the day together. The natural spontaneity and obvious attraction between the two is immediately apparent as we follow them in (mostly) real time with long takes and unobtrusive camerawork. Each film ends on an ambiguous note; at the end of Sunrise we're not sure if they had sex or not. By Before Sunset, nine years later, we find out they did, as Celine turns up at a book reading by Jesse in Paris (at the Shakespeare & Co bookshop, where I once spent the night in 1995). The formula is the same as we follow them around Paris, catching up with what they have been up to for the last decade, and why they didn't meet a year later after they first met. I usually say my favourite ending of any film is Fat City, but Before Sunset comes close with Celine in her kitchen dancing to Nina Simone and saying to Jesse, 'You're gonna miss your plane, baby'. Jesse sits on the sofa with a grin as wide as a Cheshire Cat and says, 'I know'.
Nine years later we find out soon enough what's happened, as we meet Jesse's son from a previous marriage and the twin daughters he's had with Celine. I don't know what's wrong with me but seeing Jesse and Celine still together after all these years bought tears to my eyes, even if they do argue a lot of the time. The film follows the now-familiar pattern of walking and talking, this time on a Greek island, where the topics are now more pragmatic than romantic. Nevertheless, the film ends again on an ambiguous but positive and romantic note.
* A pretentious reference to Celine and Julie go Boating, Jacques Rivette's 1974 film set in Paris, the setting for Before Sunset, where Celine and Jesse do actually board a boat; presumably Celine and Julie do too.