As the third chapter in a real-time trilogy about two people in love, Before Midnight has a unique position to explore a relationship between a couple beyond the limitations of many other films about such a topic. Few have done it. One of the most noteworthy exceptions being a brilliant series of films by Ingmar Bergman featuring Erland Josephson and Liv Ullmann playing a couple across 30 years or François Truffaut’s uneven series of movies covering 20 years in the life of Antoine Doinel. Still, those are foreign titles. That an American filmmaker can take the rather idyllic pair of movies Before Sunrise and Before Sunset and revisit a couple during not just a difficult period but a rather banal moment 18 years after they first fell under each other’s spells allows for a rather unique opportunity. Director Richard Linklater and his co-writers and stars, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, do not blow the opportunity.
Before Midnight picks up almost 10 years after 2004’s Before Sunset, when Celine and Jesse rekindle a desire for each other after only having the memory of a perfect meeting 10 years before that on a train and an evening in Vienna before Jesse has to catch a plane back to the U.S., in 1995’s Before Sunrise. Now the couple has produced a pair of twin girls and Jesse must split his life between them and Celine and his young son to his ex-wife. During a vacation in Greece, the couple find a rare chance for an evening alone to walk the ruins of the Southern Peloponnese and have some private time in a luxury hotel suite. What unfolds may upset many who fell in love with this couple in the ideal vacuum of not one but two first meetings in Before Sunrise and Before Sunset respectively.
Relationships are a funny thing, as anyone who has shared a 10-year journey or more with another might know, and cinema can hardly ever honestly capture that. There’s a cruel fallacy at play when movies end with weddings because it is only after the honeymoon that the mettle of the relationship enters the flames of a true trial. With Before Midnight, Celine and Jesse have passed some difficult bumps to have made it together as long as they have, yet many unresolved issues have seeped out of the cracks of their relationship that only become magnified when they find themselves alone together. It’s a dark, but real step in that relationship, and it will rile up the idealists of love stories in film in a very unique way.
Linklater has grown marvelously as a director since his 1991 Generation X-defining debut Slacker. He immediately proved himself as a thoughtful director who knows how to impress larger existential ideas beyond his intelligent dialogues. His films have always been about the larger picture and this trilogy of films stands as his masterwork. The film opens with a dynamic goodbye at the airport between Jesse and his son Hank (a perfectly low-key Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick dabbling in solemn repressed suffering). The revelations into their dynamic comes with break-neck humor and poignancy unique to the cinema of the Before trilogy that also raises it to a new level. All is not well in this once dreamy relationship as the irritating burs of reality have taken hold and are threatening to fester.
This film features scenes with other people, offering a distinct diversion from the earlier films, which both only focused on conversations between the couple. In this third (and hopefully not last) film in the series, Jesse mostly has alone time with other people to talk, including the terrific opening scene with his son that is allowed resonance throughout the film. There’s a conversation between he and the other men he’s visiting with on this Greek vacation and a dinner table conversation featuring the couple and other couples, younger and older, which captures the various stages of enlightenment and naiveté that comes with time as a couple. In the end, a widow gets the last word: “We appear and we disappear. We’re passing through.” Nothing like death to define a life.
Like the other movies, all the drama and conflict comes from how people talk with each other in several long scenes. The climax of which comes in the bedroom of the lux hotel, which includes the longest conversation with a nipple in a man’s mouth ever committed to film. Delpy gives a brazenly shameless performance to capture the casual and lax quality this relationship has taken a turn into. Jesse seems tired and long-suffering of her pushy dominance that often shifts to insecurity. There are several references to the summer of ’94, when the two first met. It is an idealized time that can never return. Celine longs for that mystery and Jesse tries to play games to keep her interested that constantly backfire. It’s a sad state for the once idealized couple, but it’s an honest portrayal that captures the reality of evolution in love. It’s not about the arguments, but the sincere affection these two have for being with the other, which fuels the arguments. Though often full of tumult, the conversations are as much about loving the other during a very important moment in the relationship that hardly signals an end of it as much as the continued journey.
Before Midnight is Rated R (It’s frank and real in a way most youngsters could never appreciate) and has a run time of 108 minutes. Sony Classics invited me to a preview screening for the purpose of this review. It opens in Miami-Dade theaters today, Friday, June 7:
Coral Gables Art Cinema
Regal South Beach
AMC Sunset Place 24
It will expand into West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale theaters next Friday, June 14. It is also playing in limited release in certain locations in the U.S., so check the film’s official website here for all screening dates (that’s a hotlink).
(Copyright 2013 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)