No More “Before”: Have We Seen the Last of Jesse and Celine?

Julie Delpy's reveal that she turned down a fourth film in Richard Linklater's ongoing romantic series provokes very mixed feelings

Relief… followed by a rush of despair. That's perhaps the only way I can categorise the complicated feelings prompted by the news that French actress Julie Delpy, best known for her role as Celine in Richard Linklater's three-strong series of Before films, turned down the director's offer to star in a fourth installment – a decision that essentially appears to close the door on a story cycle that had the potential to go on and on.

Delpy's comments came during a recent interview with The Film Stage, in which she discussed the ups and downs of her career to date, along with the possibility of leaving the film business altogether: “A year-and-a-half ago, I was not far from it,” she said. “The hell I went through to produce my film My Zoe had exhausted me. I said no to Richard Linklater for the fourth part of the Before films.”

Traditionally, a new Before movie has appeared to us every nine years. The first, 1995's Before Sunrise, was set in Vienna and chronicled the meeting of the young and idealistic travellers Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine, their whirlwind romance taking place over the course of a single day. The second, 2004's Before Sunset, picked up the story again in Paris, the characters reuniting after as long a period as we'd left them – rekindling their lost romance in real time, before leaving us on an exciting but ambiguous note. Before Midnight, in 2012, injected a dose of reality into what had up until then been a largely romantic series: a holiday in Greece, in which the couple find themselves struggling against the tide of married life and the dimming of their love affair.

The Before Trilogy is – to my mind – the most perfect of all filmic threes, a deeply nuanced and detailed study of modern romance in which every additional chapter enriches our relationship and understanding of its characters for reasons that never feel contrived or unnecessary. Midnight's ending, in which the couple seem to break apart after a devastating, tour-de-force of an argument in a hotel room, struck the perfect balance between realistic and romantic. It seemed like a perfect place to finally leave these two – at a crossroads, certainly, but with a dash of hope.

With that ending in mind, then, my initial reaction to hearing Delpy's claim was an overwhelming sense of comfort and closure. The kind gained when you realise something you love can no longer be tampered with. Yet, somewhere in the back of my mind, I'd unknowingly made peace with the idea of revisiting Jesse and Celine – as real to me as two fictional people can be – at some point down the line. To unexpectedly discover that we probably won't… well, those initial feelings were suddenly replaced with a sense not so unlike losing two genuine friends.

Of course, Delpy and Hawke are considered the architects of the series as much as their director, having co-written the scripts with him since the second film – and no Before movie would make sense unless all three were fully on board. They love these characters more than anyone, and know them better. If Delpy has reached a point where she feels there's nothing to add, who's to say that her choice isn't the right one?

She could still change her mind, of course – Delpy is only 51, and it stands to reason that just as she has opted not to retire from the industry, she could decide to return to Jesse and Celine in their twilight years. But my initial sense of relief, slowly undone by a feeling of loss I never anticipated, points dramatically toward that old adage: be careful what you wish for. Or maybe it's just that, when it comes to romance, a closed door simply isn't as satisfying as one left slightly ajar.

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