The last of director Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy, Before Midnight (2013) catches up with Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy), nine years after their afternoon together in Before Sunset (2004), and eighteen years after their very first meeting in Before Sunrise (1995). Before Midnight is set during one day on the stunningly beautiful Greek Peloponnese peninsula. As we learn at the very beginning of the film, Jesse and Céline are now committed partners (although not married), and have two young daughters together. They have been together since the events of Before Sunset. This film follows them as they have a dinner with friends, wander through the streets of rural Peloponnese and visit a hotel together, all the while discussing the issues of career, independence, child-rearing, and how their relationship and love for one another has changed over time.
Firstly, I have to say that this was probably my favourite film out of all three. The ways in which Jesse and Céline’s characters have been developed over time is absolutely genius – no other word for it. It’s clear from the very beginning that Jesse and Céline are very different people compared to the two starry-eyed lovers from eighteen years ago. They’ve both broken through the idealism of youth and are now parents with solid jobs and interesting career opportunities. Not only have their mannerisms and behavioural quirks developed over time, like those we saw in Before Sunset, in this film we see the way that Jesse and Céline have now developed in relation to one another. They’re not meeting again for the first time in nine years, and they’re not getting to know one another all over again; they’ve now been living together, and romantically involved, for nine years. They’ve gone past the surface material of their lives and ideals, and are heading towards darker and more intimate knowledge of one another, far beyond essentially spending what amounted to two days together. We’re watching two people who have known and loved one another for a very long time. The difference between these two states of love are difficult to realistically pull off in just any old film, but here, it was achieved masterfully through the solid acting talent on display.
Yet again – Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are perfect. Hawke ensures that Jesse has maintained some of his youthful spirit and humour from the previous films, with a distinctive vigour for writing and copious amounts of inspiration that he wants to share with everyone. But Céline seems to be almost a different person. She seems tired with some of Jesse’s behaviours, much more cynical and neurotic, and is even considering going to do environmental work with the French government, even though she knows she’ll probably hate it. There’s a sense that she’s ready to settle for the best option she has at that moment, rather than aim towards the romance of her youth that we saw in Before Sunrise and, to a certain extent, in Before Sunset. Similar to her insanely impressive scene in Sunset, Céline has one big, angry breakdown in this film, and Delpy absolutely nails it. The conflict between loving someone and being completely fed up with them is so deftly illustrated, so much so that it’s painful to watch. And Hawke’s desperation and pain in response to this is also incredibly heartbreaking. Parts of this film also made me feel very uncomfortable – but in a good way. It is a testament to the stellar performances of Hawke and Delpy that even though I found their arguments quite repellent, I couldn’t look away. Their dialogue was so real, particularly during the hotel scene, that it hit a whole bunch of nerves; I’m sure I’m not the only person who felt this way, since arguments like these happen in all relationships, whether they’re headed for a break-up or not. But it’s not all doom and gloom – there are also moments where, after watching these two interact, your heart seems to float with the promise of renewed love; at least, that’s the effect that certain scenes had on me.
For the first time in this trilogy, we’re actually introduced to secondary characters whilst Jesse and Céline are staying at their friend Patrick’s (played by legendary cinematographer Walter Lassally) Grecian abode. Jesse and Céline are staying with two other couples, and there is an extended dinner party scene where they all get together to discuss life and love. Through this scene, we get to see how Jesse and Céline are different to other couples, and how they’ve developed over time and in comparison to the idealism of young love. The direction in this scene was pretty great and I thought it was interesting to hear other characters’ stories of love, but at the same time I really wanted to know more about what had happened with Jesse and Céline during the nine years we missed, so I also found this scene quite frustrating to watch. I am glad though that the exposition throughout the film is handled in an extremely natural way, so that the information that you learn is seamlessly integrated into the context of any conversation (which, when you really think about it, is natural when people are having extended discussions with one another anyway).
Yet again the cinematography (by Christos Voudouris) and direction are amazing. The fact that Linklater has had the ability to sustain this kind of genius across three films is simply awesome. There are a lot of long tracking shots, like those we saw in Sunrise and Sunset, which are always beautifully shot – the camera wanders through the Grecian streets with Jesse and Céline almost as if it’s a friend listening to their conversation. The camera pulls away and follows the couple through corners, like a person politely allowing them to pass by and then following them along. Through this direction, we’re present with Jesse and Céline 100% of the time, and the focus is wholly on them even though the surrounds are exceedingly beautiful. I don’t think there’s anywhere in the world that’s more beautiful than Greece, and although it isn’t the focus here, the film does showcase its beauty in a subdued manner.
Before Midnight delivered a knock-out punch right to the emotions, being an honest and raw portrayal of relationships as they develop over time. No relationship can sustain the idealism and romance of youth forever – not even the relationship of two people who met in the most serendipitous of circumstances. Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke were absolutely perfect not only in this film, but in all three. When considering the trilogy as a whole, I can’t even begin to express how impressed I am, and aside from my own impatience when watching this film during the dinner party scene, it is essentially faultless. Although this film is distinctly different to the previous two, being about a completely different relationship stage, it feels like everything has clicked into place. Before Midnight is a most relevant and beautiful film that demands to be seen – once you’ve familiarised yourself with the earlier chapters of Jesse and Céline’s relationship.
Watch the trailer here.
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