Director: Richard Linklater
This review originally appeared on Ramp.ie
We’re told that absence makes the heart grow fonder. This is true of lovers, old friends and beloved movie characters. In 1995, Richard Linklater made us fall in love with Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) as they sashayed through the streets of Vienna in Before Sunrise, with flirtation on their lips and young love in their hearts. However, as beautiful as that night was, Linklater saw fit to bring them back for another encounter nine years later in Before Sunset, which was just as beautiful, if not more so. Both were infused with the desire of the characters for each other and our desire for them to be with each other, such is their charm and chemistry. Another nine years have passed but, despite them being a couple now (and parents to boot), Jesse and Celine’s now-middle-aged desire is in plentiful supply, more than enough to fuel Before Midnight.
At a time when attention spans are shortening, it’s always a joy to find a film that luxuriates in conversation. Stimulating adult interesting chatter. Who knows?; you may have experienced this phenomenon at some stage in your life. It feels like an increasingly rare commodity, but all three films in the Before… trilogy emphasize the importance of plain talk. Jesse and Celine’s attraction lies in their ability to communicate with each other naturally, lyrically, beautifully. Early on, a car ride through the Greek countryside sees the pair doing what they do best: discussing their lives and each other, with a little playful taunting thrown in for good measure. Skirting a fine line between dialogue and exposition, their chat helps bring us up to speed on the past nine years. We are in on this discussion and, to judge from the young twin girls sleeping in the back seat, we have much to discuss.
The opening scene, just preceding that car trip, sees Jesse delivering his teenage son (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) to the airport to return to Jesse’s ex-wife in the States after a holiday with Dad, stepmother and blonde cherubic stepsisters (Jennifer and Charlotte Prior). As they exchange embraces at the security desk, both lament the physical distance between them. This sets the tone for what is to come. If Sunrise dreamt of what could be, and Sunset gave love one last chance to blossom, Midnight reflects on time that has passed, and the futures that might have been for both he and she. However, there are also futures still to be considered. Jesse wants to be closer to his son, but he can’t figure out how to do it. Meanwhile, Celine is contemplating taking up an offer of a new job. They are due to return to Paris shortly, but as time goes on the potential for Greek tragedy steadily increases.
Before Midnight is forever bathed in glowing sunshine, and Jesse and Celine are surrounded by friends, laughter and wine. As we know from before, however, Linklater can seduce us visually without guaranteeing a happy ending. Another winning screenplay from Linklater, Hawke and Delpy slips in little asides and stories that hint at potential trouble in paradise. Jesse and Celine are living what is by all appearances a terrific life; a successful author and civil servant take their beautiful children on six-week holiday to Greece. However, their comfort allows them to let their guard down. Introspection leads to flirtation, which leads to embracing, leading to intimacy. Indeed, for the first time we see this couple becoming intimate, only for passions of a different kind to bubble to the surface. Tensions of all kinds are sparked by the Peloponnese sea air.
As Jesse and Celine have aged, so too have Hawke and Delpy. These roles feel like a comfortable garment they can slip on; age may have worn them a little, but their innate appeal is still very much intact. The cast of Greek friends and well-wishers is a warm and witty mix, but this is the story about two people, and two people only. They laugh and cry and eat and drink and be merry, and all we can do is hang on their words and wish they will continue to do so long into the future. Jesse and Celine are simply one of the finest romances in modern cinema, and Before Midnight brings them into their forties with intelligence, grace and swooning old-school loveliness. After the kiss-off of its pitch-perfect final line, the next nine years will be a very long wait indeed.