(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

The MovieBefore Sunrise and Before Sunset

Where You Can Stream It: HBO Max

The Pitch: After forging a deep connection on board a train to Vienna, American tourist Jesse (Ethan Hawke) convinces Parisian student Celine (Julie Delpy) to get off the train with him and wander around the city. Nine years later, they reunite, now in their 30s and burdened with the emotional baggage of adulthood. Another nine years later and…well, HBO Max doesn’t have Before Midnight so we can’t finish this bitterly romantic trilogy can we?

Why It’s Essential Viewing: “Think of this as time travel.” With that smooth pick-up line, Ethan Hawke’s Jesse kicked off one of the greatest cinematic romances of all time. The first two films of Richard Linklater‘s perfect Before trilogy, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset are the beginning of Linklater’s fixation on the cinematic passage of time that he would try to experiment with again on Boyhood and soon with Merrily We Roll Along. But the Before trilogy, and how it acts in conversation with its filmmaker and its two stars is still Linklater’s most successful attempt (sorry, Boyhood). Like the meandering chats between Jesse and Celine as they wander through picturesque European cities, the Before trilogy feels like it grew organically from Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy’s growing disillusionment they all experienced as they moved from their twenties, to their thirties, to their forties. Jesse and Celine sometimes sound too naive, at times, or too bitter, but they always sound completely, nakedly genuine.

I like to think of each of the Before movies as a sort of litmus test for one’s outlook on life. Optimists love Before Sunrise, with its unvarnished, hopeful ramblings on love delivered with all the starry-eyed conviction of two beautiful twenty-somethings whose whole lives are ahead of them. Realists prefer Before Sunset, the slightly embittered film featuring two still-beautiful thirty-somethings who bear a few more emotional and mental scars that come with living life. Then there are the cynics, who get to see all their gloomy predictions come true in Before Midnight. But it seems like HBO Max is only here to cater to the romantics, which is why only Before Sunrise and Before Sunset are available on the WarnerMedia streaming service (if you want to make for a really weird Ethan Hawke triple feature, cap off your Before marathon with Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead).

But I understand the sentiment. The Before movies are my warm blanket, my go-to films when I’m feeling a little under the weather. Sometimes (read: usually) I prefer the scratchier blanket that is Before Sunset — I love the fragile reunion between Jesse and Celine that plays out over two hours in real time, as they awkwardly dash through small talk, resentful confrontations, and faltering confessions. I thought myself so mature, so enlightened, that my favorite Before movie was always the unsentimental one with a melancholic edge, where Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy explore whether Jesse and Celine’s star-crossed romance could endure when interrupted by the real world and all its crushing problems. But lately (maybe because I’m creeping closer to my 30s, maybe because in uncertain times like these, you want a dose of that starry-eyed optimism), I’ve been craving the one-two punch of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. Like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, it’s sweet and bitter, with a hidden flavor that comes out only when you combine the two. Of course, Before Midnight comes in to finish the meal like a glass of tart wine, but you won’t get that final uncomfortable bookend to the trilogy. But HBO Max is apparently run by optimists who don’t want their appetite ruined.

But there’s nothing wrong with tagging along with your two beautiful, way more articulate, friends for four hours as they wander through European cities in warm climates. Even if the Before trilogy is not complete on HBO Max and you are a completionist, the two movies on their own stand alongside the all-time classics. So make it a double feature, or baby, you are gonna miss that plane.

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