Review: Before Midnight (Sundance 2013)
PLOT: Nine years after their reunion in BEFORE SUNSET, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) are on vacation in Greece- with two twin daughters in tow, and Jesse's estranged son. Taking a break from the kids, the two spend their last night in Greece walking around the countryside- where they examine the evolving nature of their relationship, and how they've changed since that fateful evening nineteen years ago when they first met.
REVIEW: There's something absolutely magical about Richard Linklater's BEFORE series. I doubt when the first one came out in '94 that anyone- Linklater, and co-stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy included, ever guessed they'd become the narrative equivalent of Michael Apted's UP series. In '94, SUNRISE was a hip pairing of two sexy young stars, but over the years the films have come to mean so much more to their audience- myself included.
I'm probably about one film behind Jesse and Celine. What they went through in SUNSET is what I'm going through now- at 31- and I imagine at 40, my experience won't be all that different from what they're going through here. What's so exciting about the films is the way they each mirror the struggles and passions of the characters as they get older, with their priorities changing drastically over the years. SUNRISE was young, romantic, and idealistic- whereas SUNSET was more mature, but ultimately hopeful.
In MIDNIGHT, Jesse and Celine- who had really only spent two days together by the end of SUNSET, have been together nine years, and know each other a whole lot better than they did in the last go-round. Jesse is still the idealistic one- who sees everything around him as fodder for his novels, while Celine, as Jesse explains it, is “absolutely crazy”- but in an adorable way.
While the two of them are in love, MIDNIGHT more than acknowledges that after nine years together, it's natural for the relationship to evolve away from the desperately romantic feelings they had for each other in the last two. Here, nothing is keeping them apart- but the question is posed, is love enough to keep these intensely different people together?
Like the other films, MIDNIGHT feels absolutely authentic, with Delpy and Hawke each getting a screenwriting credit. Like always, Jesse and Celine feel like friends you just can't wait to spend time with- and the BEFORE franchise is probably the only series of films where I actually miss the characters in the (too long) gaps between films.
Once again, MIDNIGHT unfolds mostly in a series of conversations, although unlike SUNRISE or SUNSET- there's an extended sequence where Jesse and Celine visit some friends for lunch, where the different couples each elaborate a bit on what (to them) equals a successful relationship. The meat of the film comes from the last hour or so, where the two start walking through the Greek countryside, exploring a old church, before moving on to a hotel room, where their attempts at lovemaking are sabotaged by their own bickering.
Obviously, BEFORE MIDNIGHT is only really meant for those of us who enjoyed the last two films, but then again, I haven't run into many folks who haven't. This is probably one of the most fluid series of films ever made, and and it's fascinating to continually revisit the two at different points in their lives. Hopefully it won't take another nine years before we get to check in again on their relationship, but at any rate, I'll be anxiously anticipating another chapter in their saga.