This video essay by Kogonada withholds analytical, expository voiceover and onscreen text in favor of foregrounding the sounds and images of Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy, as well as numerous other films which deal with and interrogate the concept of time in cinema. This creates an effective and affecting video, one that delivers far more meaning and invites far more engagement than a less abstract viewing experience might produce. Kogonada in this piece examines not merely how time is treated as a theme in great films, but also how film itself captures and embalms time. He posits the premise that cinema is “the art of time,” and explores how, through that mentality, Linklater and others—most obviously Francois Truffaut in his four Antoine Doinel films—use film to sketch the development of characters across their lives. Time is imagined in these films as a fleeting and insubstantial thing; in Linklater’s vision, we are visitors in the world for the brief period of our lives. This does not result in a nihilistic conception of reality or a pessimistic directorial style however. Rather, it imbues brief and irretrievably passing moments with a deep meaning and profundity. This mentality lies at the heart of Linklater’s best works, and ties his films together—not through a distinctive visual style, idiosyncratic narrative structure, or favored choice of subject matter, but rather through a core cinematic DNA which uses captured and embalmed moments of time to have a filmic conversation about the nature of time.
As a work of videographic film criticism, this piece benefits enormously from its more experimental style. Though hardly avant-garde, this video essay has very little direct narration—Kogonada sparingly deploys clips of a phone interview he conducted with Linklater, but these sounds neither distract from the juxtaposition of film visuals nor tell us directly how we should interpret a given work. Instead, Kogonada demands more of his audience. He asks us to draw connections between great films—like Truffaut’s Doinel films and Linklater’s Before trilogy—and, more importantly, probe what in Truffaut’s work inspired Linklater. Kogonada’s interview, as well as generous character voiceover, suggests that it’s the multilayered relationship between film and time which has prompted this imitation. Because Kogonada refrains from spelling out his precise ideas about the subject, he leaves more room for interpretation in the mind of the viewer, allowing them to draw connections to beautiful-but-fleeting moments in their own lives, or perhaps imagining concurrent examples in other films. One clever trick Kogonada uses to encourage this interpretation is to use audio from one Before film—mostly Before Sunrise (1995)—over images taken from the subsequent films in the trilogy. This draws the three films, which were made with nine year gaps in between them, much closer together. Simultaneously, it prompts those who know the films well to consider how the characters changed throughout the series, and why such juxtaposition feels narratively jarring even as it reinforces Kogonada’s thesis.