Reviewed by Ian Forbes
Amidst a sea of huge budget spectacles in release right now, Before Midnight caps off a trilogy of small, intimate encounters between Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) – each taking place 9 years apart; both in the lives of their characters and the films’ actual release dates. It really is a remarkable and intriguing idea, with the only other real analogy being the Up series of documentaries which have followed 14 British children’s lives since 1964, when they were 7-years old, or François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows and subsequent films following the character of Antoine Doinel over time (Now that’s commitment).
Back on topic, 1995 saw the release of a little indie gem called Before Sunrise which undoubtedly caused a rise in the number of Americans figuring that they could backpack through Europe and find their soul mate. Jesse was returning home to the States while nursing a broken heart inflicted just days earlier and Celine was still getting over a break-up of her own. They found solace and promise within one another over the course of their one night spent walking and talking with one another in Vienna.
2004 would see Jesse and Celine bump into each other again in Before Sunset, this time in Paris. Shot essentially in real time, the pair catch up on life and rekindle the spark that had burned so bright 9 years prior. Its abrupt but so beautifully done ending echoed the ambiguity of where the first film had left off; allowing audiences to imagine what would happen next and/or leaving them waiting those many years for a concrete answer.
Now in 2013, the story has shifted to Greece. The walking and talking is still here. They’ve also evolved to driving and talking. But that’s neither here nor there. What we learn is that the pair have remained together over the past nine years, and given birth to twin girls in that time as well. Their conversation continues while vacationing in Greece, first with a collection of writers and then on their own when presented with a forced opportunity to have a night without the twins. What ensues is a frank, and at times brutal, hashing and lashing out of frustrations that have built up in the relationship in all this time.
There are probably hordes of people who find the idea of sitting there listening to two people talk for 100 minutes a complete waste of time, but if you’re like myself, and you’ve been there since the beginning, catching up with these characters is like catching up with long-lost friends. There’s a beauty in these intimate discussions, which mirror real life far more than the Hollywood romantic comedies which are so intent on adhering to a formula ticket buyers will find familiar and comfortable.
Looking at this on its own, I would imagine the movie might annoy and fluster audiences. Jesse and Celine are at odds with one another for much of the procession and watching a couple bicker and argue isn’t good date material. However, one has to take the totality of the series into account and look at this with perspective. The first film was an idealized fantasy of a meeting, the second was a chance to make up for time taken away from them due to circumstances beyond their control, and this third look into their lives is an examination of what can happen to people whose entire relationship is built upon a brief but passionate night that altered each other’s perspective on practically everything.
The performances all around are quite good and give the proceedings that natural quality the series is known for. The discussions oven drift from personal to political to anecdotal and back again – all within the course of one scene. Director Richard Linklater continues using long takes which create a real sense that the audience is a fly on the wall, privy to all these private moments and conversations.
Even with knowing the full history of Jesse and Celine, some elements felt a bit forced and it took me some time afterwards to process and place what it is that this film was trying to say; like I said, taken on its own the movie can be quite acerbic. I still fully appreciate the process of watching two people evolve over time, and getting a much more realistic sense of the peaks and valleys of a relationship. This is far from the norm in filmmaking and a cinematic experience that isn’t for everyone as audiences either will find an entire movie of people just talking not their cup of tea, or are at the movies to escape life rather than be confronted with it.
Before Midnight is unlike the other two of the franchise in that it presents a stopping point. Yes, it possible to continue but given all of the discussions and developments up to now, continuing would likely feel redundant in what Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy want to say. While I find some of the political leanings a bit too heavy handed in the last two movies and prefer the original film’s idealism, there’s a sense of closure achieved in completing the trilogy. In each film, things aren’t necessarily tied up in a neat little bow and that’s okay with me; so to is a certain convenience in how each time, one night can contain so much melodrama and angst. Whether that’s how you want to spend your time in a movie theater is another story.
Before Midnight is rated R for sexual content/nudity and language.
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