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Before Midnight Review

June 28, 2013 | Posted by Chad Webb
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Before Midnight Review  

Ethan Hawke: Jesse Wallace
Julie Delpy: Celine
Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick: Hank
Jennifer Prior: Ella
Charlotte Prior: Nina
Xenia Kalogeropoulou: Natalia
Walter Lassally: Patrick
Ariane Labed: Anna
Yiannis Papadopoulos: Achilleas
Athina Rachel Tsangari: Ariadni
Panos Koronis: Stefanos
Directed By: Richard Linklater
Written By: Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, & Julie Delpy
Release Date: May 24, 2013
Running Time: 109 minutes

Rated R for sexual content/nudity and language

Before Midnight begins nine years after the events in Before Sunset, exactly the same amount of time that has passed since that film was released in 2004. Jesse is dropping off his son Hank (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) at the airport. Hank lives in Chicago with his mother and had just spent the summer with his father at the Greek Peloponnese peninsula. As they say their goodbyes and Jesse watches Hank go through security and on his way home, the expression on his face conveys the guilt of a man who wishes he could make everything work. He now lives in Europe with Celine. They conceived twin daughters and both have full-time jobs. Jesse doesn’t get to see his son as often as he would like, and Celine is affronted at the mere mention of moving to Chicago.

Before Midnight explores two people who must evolve from their whirlwind romance as lovers and decide if they wish to become lifelong companions. They are obviously a fictional couple, but over the course of three amazing motion pictures, Jesse and Celine have become so real to so many viewers. This is no longer a fleeting love. Both still care for each other deeply, but like any partnership they argue, have grown accustomed to one another’s habits, and are wondering what the future holds. Director Richard Linklater, not to mention stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, have take these characters through a maturation process that is fulfilling and believable. The trio has retained what we adore about this duo and by extension the series, while also continually molding and developing it to avoid repetitiveness and redundancy.

As they travel back to the home they’re vacationing at, two things become apparent. The first is that while children are now certainly a factor in their lives, Before Midnight does not strain under the weight of new faces. The twin girls, Ella and Nina (Jennifer and Charlotte Pior), both ideal casting choices who resemble mini-Celines with their long curly blonde hair, are fast asleep in the back seat. This is still about Jesse and Celine (albeit older versions) and how their existence together is changing. The other is that a situation has arisen that threatens to upset the balance of their relationship. Jesse, still finding success as a novelist, but who can write anywhere, wants to be a present father-figure to Hank while also keeping the family he has built since. Celine does not like America and is at a career crossroads, considering a position in the government.

Before Sunrise was a big college movie, which is where I first learned of Jesse and Celine. Several friends praised it (and subsequently Before Sunrise) to the point where I felt I should just rent it and get it over with. I was mesmerized, enchanted. Here was a film that simply showed two people walking and talking over the course of 100 minutes, yet it was endlessly riveting as it fleshed out two absorbing personas. From there I graduated to My Dinner with Andre. I quickly understood why the people around me were so eager to spread the word on these Linklater efforts. The series soon occupied spots among my favorite films and I’ve watched them numerous times, always urging others to check them out if they haven’t. When Before Midnight was initially discussed in 2011, I was excited and apprehensive. The previous installments were so satisfying, what if the next one was less than that? Where could Linklater possibly take this couple now? Thankfully my doubts were alleviated.

Part of the enjoyment of each Before tale is soaking in the sights and conversations. It would be a disservice to the exquisite screenplay from Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy to reveal more details than necessary, but there are two scenes in particular that should be recognized. During the first meal after Jesse, Celine, and their daughters return from the airport, three couples are seated along with two elderly folks. One is the host of the summer house and the other is his female friend Natalia. She gives a monologue about the memories of her late husband that is more poignant than any speech you’ll see this year. And this quote lingered in my head: “We appear and we disappear — and we are so important to some, but we are just passing through.”

The second sequence that stood out is a silent one, which occurs as Jesse and Celine are gazing out into the evening sky admiring the sunset. Though no words are spoken in this moment, more is communicated just in observing than one might think. The sunset itself also serves as a metaphor for the status of the relationship at that instance, as if both understand the gravity of the impending situation, a fork in the road that must be dealt with head on. One of numerous qualities that unite this franchise is the locations: Vienna, Paris, and now Greece. One could drown in the heartachingly beautiful landscapes and buildings. These two never visit an ugly locale. The cinematography of Christos Voudouris is breathtaking, never capturing an image that isn’t immersive or attractive in its own way, even the hotel room. It goes without saying that the picturesque views of Greece and picking the appropriate time of day finishes much of the labor for him, but this is a gorgeously shot film.

At this stage, it is almost pointless to judge the performances of Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. Both contributed in writing the screenplay and both drew from personal experience to transform this glimpse into their lives as organic and engaging as possible. The stars have no shortage of roles in between each of these stints, but at this juncture I can hardly watch them without thinking of Jesse and Celine. It might seem silly, but the audience feels like they know these people. We share in their most intimate, life-altering exchanges. Hawke and Delpy are so comfortable and have such intuitive, inimitable chemistry that surpasses every other turn on their résumé. That’s not to say none of them are worthwhile, quite the contrary, but these characters are timeless. The action revolves around them, but there is nary a bad turn, including Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, Walter Lassally, and more.

Each of these movies is dialogue driven, but it’s the off the cuff delivery, the spontaneity of each line that makes the whole package collectively special. Nothing seems scripted, not just because of the manner in which the script was written, but also due to the natural approach of the cast members and how smoothly they interact. You will not find any complex shots from Richard Linklater in any of them. His direction is straightforward and inconspicuous. I would say every moviegoer acts as a fly on the wall, but we’re closer to these people than that by now.

Before Midnight is a test of the long-term. Just how committed are they? The issues they are facing are universal. As I sat in the theater I thought about which aspects I could connect to. This line or that scene reminded me of my own life. I’m sure I’m not the only one who can sympathize with that sentiment. The blissful romance of Before Sunrise is gone and you can detect the difference in tone as Jesse and Celine speak to each other. The swooning emotion of the initial fling or Honeymoon phase can only take you so far until financial obligations, family duties, and the mundane of the everyday take its place. Now they are used to each other’s company. Do I want to spend the rest of my life with this person? This is definitely the most pessimistic entry of the series. None of the arguments are exaggerated or too lenient. One of the reasons we are so passionate about this series is because it is the antidote of the standard Hollywood formula. There is an undeniable sense of plausibility and genuineness.

The franchise has been compared to Michael Apted’s Up documentaries, an examination of humans over time. If the chronicles of Jesse and Celine plan to be the fictional counterparts to those incredible projects, that is fine by me. However, there is also an aura of Eric Rohmer to the proceedings as well. I suspect that if Linklater and his leads decide to revisit these extraordinary lives, they will be patient and await the proper time to do so. It’s not easy keeping a relationship going strong for decades, and Before Midnight explores a chapter which confronts that fact. You will be hard-pressed to see a more stirringly verbose, authentic, and amorous achievement all year. I deeply loved this film and was not happy to have it end. I hope you cherish it as I have.

The 411Before Sunrise wasn’t meant to spur an entire series. I doubt Richard Linklater thought these characters, Jesse and Celine, would be in such high demand, but that’s what happened. The third and fourth sequels of a franchise are usually the tricky ones. Before Midnight has proven to be one of the best third installments of all-time. If Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy decided to stop here, I’d be fine with that. But if they got the motivation to revisit these lives once more, I have faith that they’ll put forth as much heart and intelligence as they can muster to satisfy fans. If you have not seen this yet, or if you haven’t seen any of these films yet, I urge you to do so. If my words aren’t enough to convince you, this currently has a 94 out of 100 on Metacritic and a 98% on Rotten Tomatoes. Don’t wait, see it on the big screen if you can.
411 Elite Award
Final Score:  10.0   [ Virtually Perfect ]  legend

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Chad Webb

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