Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Genre: Drama, Romance
Run Time: 1 hour, 47 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Julia Delpy
Written & Directed by Richard Linklater (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Dazed and Confused, The School of Rock, Bernie, A Scanner Darkly)
It's impossible to discuss Before Midnight - the follow-up to the 1994 film Before Sunrise and its sequel, the 2004 film Before Sunset - without revealing certain plot points. So, spoiler alert! The following review of Before Midnight (opening today) contains some plot spoilers and revelations.
It's been nine years since we have seen Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julia Delpy), the young couple who first met on a train bound for Vienna (in Before Sunrise), who reunited years later in Paris (Before Sunset). That last film left off on a sort-of cliff-hanger, where it appeared that Jesse and Celine were finally going to be together.
That optimistic thought is confirmed in Before Midnight, a movie that intensely analyzes what life is like after Happy Ever After. The film begins with Jesse giving a heartfelt send-off to his son (from his ex-wife) at an airport. The boy had joined his father and Celine in Greece for the Summer, as they vacationed at the home of a fellow author in the Greek countryside.
It is no coincidence that this third chapter takes place in Greece, the birthplace of tragedy. Keeping in line with the first two films, Before Midnight is all talk, but the insights and truths uncovered once again make for a moving movie-going experience.
Per norm, most of the film consists of long tracking shots of Jesse and Celine talking and relating to one another. Ethan Hawke and Julia Delpy are once again stellar in how they portray their aging characters. There may never be better or more tangibly realistic chemistry on-screen, than when Hawke and Delpy are together.
This film however, is a darker and more ambitious story than ever before. Where the first film captured the essence of romantic love, the second film showed how certain realities of life start to get in the way. Now, 18 years later after their initial encounter, the idea of love itself is questioned and pondered. For the first time in the series, this film exposes that all love - romantic or otherwise - is also based on perception.
In the film's best scene, love is discussed by not only Jesse and Celine, but by other couples sitting around a dinner table. There is a young couple, not unlike Jesse and Celine back in the day, who are just beginning to experience romance. There is another couple about the same age as Jesse and Celine, who offer another take. Then there is an old pair of widows, a man and a woman, who see love through the rear-view window of time.
Before Midnight works as a poignant study of a relationship between a man and woman and doesn't do so by trying to make a point. For those that have seen the first two films, it is joyous enough just to return to these two beloved characters. However, this experience is the most unsettling of them all.
Where the first two films cleverly ended with "what if" scenarios, Before Midnight sheds this trend. After the first film, we wondered if they really slept together and if they ended up meeting six-months later (both results confirmed in the sequel). In the second film, we were left wondering if they did indeed finally get together, or if Jesse's realities (his wife and child back in the states) were going to make this reunion short-lived (these outcomes are confirmed in this newest film). But at the end of chapter three, we get a more definitive conclusion of where these two are headed. It is both satisfying and sad.
With the words "sunrise" and "sunset" we understand the metaphors put forth in the previous films: That the moments in our lives are fleeting. With the smartly titled Before Midnight, we are asked to consider: Is this the end of the hour, or is this the markings of a new beginning?
Hopefully we get a chapter every nine years or so, because relationships have never been portrayed more powerfully. For director Richard Linklater, Delpy and Hawke, they have once again crafted a masterpiece of acting and human emotion. Movies of this magnitude are fleeting indeed.
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