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‘Before Sunrise’: 30 years ago this sad love story was born on June 16

Richard Linklater brought to light in film form an experience with Amy Lehrhaupt, a young woman he met and fell in love with in one night.

Richard Linklater brought to light in film form an experience with Amy Lehrhaupt, a young woman he met and fell in love with in one night.

This June 16 marks a particularly special date, especially for Richard Linklater, the director and creator of Before Sunrise (1994), which premiered in cinemas 30 years ago. This film is more than just a movie, as it tells the profound love story of Jesse and Céline.

This love story is beautifully brought to life by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, who portray Jesse and Céline, and also, in a way, embody a young Richard Linklater and Amy Lehrhaupt. Indeed, the tale of two young people who meet on a train from Budapest and travel together to Vienna, engaging in a conversation that would span over 20 years, is inspired by a personal experience of the director himself.

The journey of Jesse and Céline didn’t end with Before Sunrise. It continued with two sequels, Before Sunset (2004) and Before Midnight (2013), expanding on the encounter of a young American and a young French woman who had just met. They spent an afternoon and night together in Vienna, talking and walking as they fell in love.

The true story behind the movie Before Sunset

Richard Linklater wanted to bring one of his personal experiences to the big screen—a “brief encounter” he had with a woman named Amy Lehrhaupt. He met her while visiting his sister in Philadelphia in 1989, when he was 29 years old.

Their story began with a flirtatious interaction in a toy store, which led Linklater to leave her a note saying, “I’ll only be in town tonight if you want to do something later.” They ended up spending several hours talking about various topics. Linklater was captivated. This inspired him to tell her, “I’m going to make a film about this. About this feeling, about what’s happening between us.”

They spent the night walking from midnight until after six in the morning. Linklater hasn’t shared many details about their time together, only that they talked, shared romantic moments, and possibly even exchanged a kiss. Unlike Jesse and Céline, they didn’t exchange phone numbers or addresses.

Linklater and Lehrhaupt stayed in touch for a few months through letters but never saw each other again. Later, Linklater met Christina Harrison, who would become his wife and the mother of his three children, including Lorelei Linklater, who appeared in Boyhood.

Eventually, Lehrhaupt stopped writing. She disappeared from his life. This lingering sense of longing inspired Linklater to create a follow-up film a decade later, imagining how their encounter might have continued. Both Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy brought their own personal touches to the sequel. Delpy emphasized in an interview with The Guardian on the 25th anniversary of the first film: “The original script for the film, believe it or not, was devoid of romance, even though Richard Linklater based it on a woman he spent a night walking with in Philadelphia. It was a great starting point, but it was still more cerebral and dialogue-heavy.”

Linklater had always hoped to reconnect with Amy somehow, especially since she had stopped responding to his letters and calls. Thinking she might have moved, he aimed to send a clearer message through the film. Although the movie was set in Europe, he had Jesse and Céline listen to the song “Come Here” by Kath Bloom in a record store, a song that mirrored his and Amy’s experience.

For a long time, Linklater held onto the hope of reuniting with Amy. He never publicly acknowledged that the films were inspired by their encounter until he spoke to The Times. Three years before Before Midnight was released, he received a letter from a friend of Amy Lehrhaupt who knew about their meeting. It was in this letter that he learned Amy had tragically died in a motorcycle accident in May 1994, before she turned 25, at the same time he was filming the first movie. “It couldn’t have been sadder,” he admitted to the publication.

In the end, Linklater decided to include a special thanks to Amy Lehrhaupt in the credits of Before Midnight, acknowledging “because we never know the impact we have on the lives of others.”