Review: Before Midnight
Nine years after they reunited in France, Jesse and Celine are together living in Greece with their twin girls. We spend time with the pair across one day, as they dine with friends, take a walk through the ruins, and reluctantly agree to a romantic evening together at a hotel.
Who’s in It?
For the third time in nearly twenty years, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are Jesse and Celine, and both are as winning as effortless as ever.
More authentic dialogue, you’d be hard to find. A film driven almost exclusively by the conversations of two people, set across a mere five scenes, is all that is needed to make for one of the most delightfully wonderful and daring films of the year.
Writer and director Richard Linklater, concluding (maybe) the story he began in 1995 with Before Sunrise and continued in 2004 with Before Sunset, presents a portrait of a relationship nine years on built from serendipity and passion that is now entering complacency and convenience. Not that Jesse and Celine are lazy or lacking in love, but now in their 40’s, and with twin daughters, their life is decidedly different. They do still however, have plenty to say about themselves, each other, and the world around them, and lucky for us, we get to sit in and listen in on a disciplined script that is so natural it feels like Hawke and Delpy are making it up as they go (and also that they’re really a couple).
Once again we catch them at a very different stage in life, this time across a day in Greece, beginning with a drive home from the airport. Jesse has dropped off his son to return to America with his mother, and it’s a moment that lingers with sadness for a father who wants to be around more. That his son is back across the ocean makes Jesse think joining him might be a good idea, but that means bringing a wife that is settling into a career.
That notion isn’t seriously broached until later, as first they joke in a car ride, chat with friends about young love and old love, and take a stroll through gorgeous Peloponnesian countryside musing about ‘what ifs’ and ‘what nows.’
On the finality of relationships, the permanence of life, the ephemeral nature of love and beauty, listening the two talk – and tease and flirt and goof and bicker and argue and fight – is poetry, instantly enthralling and always fascinating. These are real, familiar, honest, and flawed people, scared of the uncertainty of the future but fierce in their conviction. At the film’s climax, a fight seems to manifest itself out of nothing, with each building off the other, finding ways to nitpick and outdo, looking to be win rather than being right.
It’s a credit to Hawke and Delpy, who both co-wrote the script with Linklater and make the difficult and novel look incredibly easy and simple. They are earnest, if not a bit paranoid, wise to each other’s ways; easy-going on the top but acutely aware underneath. They are artfully playful, free with their words until they sense they need to be careful. What they know, though wouldn’t necessarily admit, is that neither is entirely right or entirely wrong.
Their future was wrapped up in Before Sunset, as the happy couple left moviedom to join the ranks of all the other happy couples who ride off together and we never hear from again – we just assume they are forever and always together. Linklater dares to find out how and what keeps them a pair, bringing them back to the screen. While their relationship may be strained at times, the couple’s third feature film together is brilliant and flawless.
Should I See It?
Absolutely, alone or with your partner, having seen the first two or not. It doesn’t matter.
“I can’t believe it – I’m stuck with an American teenager.”