Review: Before Midnight


The best film you’re likely to see this summer features no superheroes, CGI extravaganzas, or outlandish plots. Interestingly enough, the film is in fact a sequel, the third chapter in an unlikely cinematic story which at its essence simply features two people talking. Taking into account the consequences of our past and how they shape our future, one would be hard pressed to find a film as philosophically rewarding and emotionally complex as Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight.

Since Before Midnight is the continuation of a larger story, it naturally requires the foreknowledge of its preceding chapters (Before Sunrise and Before Sunset), for it explores the consequences of Jesse and Celine’s relationship. The third film finds Jesse and Celine together nine years after their reunion in Before Sunset. However, where the two had not seen each each other for nine years between Sunrise and Sunset, they have remained together ever since. They have not pursued marriage, but two twin daughters have come as a result. The film opens with the conclusion of a vacation in the south Greece and Jesse sees his son (from his previous marriage) off at the airport. I’ll refrain from spoiling much else of the story, but as it unfolds, it becomes clear that despite Jesse and Celine’s best efforts, a strain is beginning to take hold on them. The tone of the film is familiar at times to its predecessors but also takes edgier turns for serious matters. Also, the previous two films relied on a ticking clock to propel the tension, but here, Jesse and Celine are forced to make active decisions without the intervention of fate, choices that may fundamentally and permanently change their relationship. 

Too few films, romantic or otherwise, bother to truly look at the imperfect mechanics of a developed relationship, but Before Midnight refuses to marginalize or overlook anything. Jesse and Celine are now in their forties, and though their love for each other remains evident, they aren’t in the same place that they were in their thirties and twenties. In passion and in tension, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy continue to share incalculable chemistry and a major reason for this is their collaboration with director Linklater on the film’s immaculate, often brutally honest script. The truth and vitality of the script is present even outside of Jesse and Celine’s insightful conversations. For instance, the couple join in on a final dinner with the family and friends they met in Greece, and the scene features some delicious discourse between the eight characters that makes one feel like they could talk for the rest of the night.

The film is highly conversational, featuring less than ten scenes, but each serves its purpose for developing the characters and furthering the narrative beats. Linklater is a very efficient filmmaker, and rightfully refrains from any stylistic flourishes. In some scenes, a two-shot of Jesse and Celine will go several minutes without a cut. This should not be mistaken as an indulgence in cinematic endurance, however. Rather, it allows the actors and dialogue to hone in without being chopped up from shot to shot. By refraining from unnecessary editing, Linklater allows Before Midnight to flow and breathe. The photography of the locales is often exquisite, but not distractingly so. With each film, the environments seem to speak to the development of Jesse and Celine’s relationship. Do the ruins of ancient Greece have anything to say about where they stand now? I’ll hold off on open judgment, but suffice to say that Linklater’s film is a bold step into rockier terrain. Before Midnight makes it clear that no person or relationship is perfect, and why should it be? It is even bolder to posit ideas that unapologetically contradict Jesse and Celine’s positions from their youth, calling the whole notion of their unity into question. This is what is most rewarding about such a sublime series, for as the characters mature, so do the films.


~ by romancinema on July 5, 2013.

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