The pains and pleasures of walking and talking with a loved one.
Before Midnight is the third installment in writer/director Richard Linklater’s Before series featuring co-stars Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke. Before Sunrise (95) introduced Jesse (Hawke), a struggling young twentysomething wanna-be writer from America, who meets Celine (Delpy), a young twentysomething Frenchwoman, on the train. He persuades her to spend the day with him before he returns to America the next day. They spend the day walking and talking while a love spark kindles between them. They make a pact to meet six months later after they sort out their lives back home. Before Sunset (04) reunites them nine years later as Jesse visits Paris on his book tour where he meets Celine again. They spend the afternoon together catching up before Jesse flies back to America where a bad marriage and a young son Hank await. The film ends with Jesse in Celine’s apartment in danger of missing his flight.
Before Midnight begins with Jesse at an airport in Greece with his son Hank who is flying back to America. In their brief conversation we gather that Jesse stayed in Paris with Celine. Next is a long car-ride with Celine and Jesse and their sleeping twin girls. On the ride Jesse innocently suggests maybe they move back to Chicago to be closer to Hank which sends Celine off on a big rant. The ensuing conversations and arguments back and forth reveal plenty has happened to them since Celine charmed Jesse with her Nina Simone impression. Now, instead of pondering the “what-ifs” of life, Before Midnight delves into the “what-dids” between our erstwhile romantics. Like any long-term relationship, it has clearly had it’s ups and downs based upon the verbal bruises they inflict.
It doesn’t take long for the details of the last nine years to get sketched out by both Jesse and Celine. If there’s one thing these characters have perfected over three movies it is destroying the claim that communication is 94% nonverbal. These two talk and talk and argue and talk and argue. If you dig these characters and their loose, jazzy, Woody Allen conversational vibe, then Before Midnight will be one of your favorite movies of the year. Your humble reviewer has never cared much for the murine Ethan Hawke save for the occasional Gattaca or the 90′s-zeitgesty Reality Bites. The same could be said for Delpy too aside from her own two 2 Days movies. Confession admitted, I can say without reservation that Delpy and Hawke in the Before films are wonderful. Their acting is a true delight as their characters are tinged with just the right amount of cynicism, sadness and yearning to balance out their pretentious, frustrating and artsy sides.
Jesse and Celine arrive at their destination, a writer’s retreat setup by a professor friend of Jesse’s in Greece. Now, for the first time in the series, there’s a long dinner scene with several other couples. Here we have a good opportunity to see their interactions with other couples which highlights most of their troubles already talked about on the ride up. It is a lot more difficult to make something last, like a relationship, than to fall in love in one-night. Their friends pitch in to get Jesse and Celine a hotel room in town, sans twins, for a romantic evening alone. Every parent’s dream, right? Those plans are quickly thwarted as the two of them continue their unending conversation/argument. It is at this point it dawns on the viewer that this is their only real intimacy right now – fighting. The youthful days or screwing their brains out have been replaced by adult disappointments, slights and grievances that need to rehashed forever.
Even with all of the arguments and recriminations, Before Midnight still entertains amidst the emotional turmoil. Hawke and Delpy have such a strong connection on screen that draws you into their story. They manage to balance the angst with the right amount of humor. The movie never does feels like it’s going to veer too far into the gut-wrenching, dramatic territory explored by the films of American independent legend John Cassavetes or the amazing German film Everyone Else by Maren Ade. In the end, Jesse manages to resurrect the Before series’s key metaphor of a time-machine to try and coax a smile out of the bitter Celine at the end of Midnight. With any argument, you reach that point where you are all talked out, which is where Midnight ends like the other two films, on an ambiguous-yet-hopeful note.
One wonders if we will see a fourth installment in 2022? Could this be Linklater’s version of Michael Apted’s “UP series”, a British documentary series that revisits its characters every seven years? Fingers crossed.