One of the most extraordinary experiences available to a movie lover at a festival is watching a particularly emotional or intimate film and then meeting the actors afterward. Closing night at the 29th Santa Barbara International Film Fest promised a very exciting version of that experience with the trilogy of intensely interpersonal films Before Sunrise (1995), Before Sunset (2004), and this year’s Before Midnight, all screening on the last day of the fest.
That was to be followed by a chat with director Richard Linklater, who still seems like an important new director 20 years later, and the very glamorous costars, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, who also collaborated on all three scripts. The films, for those raised in isolation tanks, were mostly talking pictures and, even though the sex was implied, a strong combination of big ideas and erotic possibility. The idea of seeing all three and then hearing an onstage conversation seemed irresistible.
That is, until moderator Anne Thompson stepped in. The Indiewire editor opened with a little bit of brio, suggesting there was “a lot of philosophy” and “repetitive tropes” involved in the film. But when the brilliant director and his equally vibrant cast didn’t rise to the occasion, she quickly shifted the whole tone of the rest of the conversation to technical aspects of the writing, rehearsing, and filming of the trilogy.
It’s not a stupid tactic, but most of us in the audience were hoping it was just a way to loosen up the performers to speak about real thematic grists, like the shift in tones over the years as the duo’s conversations turned from romance in the first two films to endings and death in the third. But not a word on such issues.
I now know a lot about how long the longest take in the movie was (14 minutes, the driving scene) and that the writers felt they needed to preserve a balance of drama and humor unless the audience realizes that these films have no plot. But, thanks to a timid interviewer, I learned nothing about the films.