When Before Sunset was released in 2004, its co-writer and co-star Julie Delpy mused on the popularity of the two sublimely romantic movies she and Ethan Hawke had made with director Richard Linklater: "It's not like Star Wars, but in that small group of people, it really means something to them." Which is to say that, for that small group of people, among whom I loudly and proudly count myself, awaiting a new instalment of the Before trilogy (as it stands, for now) is in fact exactly like Star Wars, just without the lightsabers.
As one who made sure he knew exactly nothing about Before Midnight until the lights went down, I shall refrain from too much spoilerism. Suffice to say, the title presages a darker and more complex tone, and the simmering transatlantic dilemma that was central to Celine and Jesse's relationship (now a marriage of eight years), and crucial to the suspense of the first two movies, now asserts itself loudly and painfully, as Jesse openly pines for a return home, and Celine openly mocks Jesse's literary and sexual potency. We're in a real marriage-with-kids now; a grown-up, enervating business. Always heroic talkers, Celine and Jesse now expend their formidable articulacy on bickering and in arguments that are as lengthy and complex as the serenades they sang to one another in times past.
As the fortune teller in Before Sunrise told them, "You need to resign yourself to the awkwardness of life." And how. The halcyon days are gone; real life is here. We're a long way from that Quaker wedding/"I'm gonna take your picture" moment that closed Before Sunrise. I'll say no more, and let viewers themselves pick up on those lovingly submerged pivotal moments Linklater so relishes, or the sly movie references he slips in like sugar lumps but never oversells. Bande A Part museum dash in Me And Orson Welles? Check! Murnau's tram ride in Sunrise replicated – with words – in Before Sunrise? Check!
This multi-decade movie achievement has few parallels in world cinema, but one is the Antoine Doinel series, made over a quarter-century by François Truffaut, the director I associate most closely with Linklater for their shared warmth, humanism, and love of The Word, be it written or spoken.
Reprising Delpy on Star Wars: recall the beloved listening booth scene in Before Sunrise, 80 sublime seconds of unbroken footage in which love happens before our eyes, precisely because of their eyes. The hectic crossfire of glances sneaked and dodged in that cramped space, as Celine seduces Jesse through Kath Bloom's lyrics – that indelible flurry of glances – is exactly what we grown-up incurable romantics have instead of lightsaber battles.
(And yes, Before Midnight is beyond magnificent.)
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © Sara Alfred