Monday, July 1, 2013

Review: "Before Midnight"

Before Midnight is the third film in a trilogy that first introduced the world to Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) in 1995's Before Sunrise. A chance encounter on a train to Vienna turns into a brief romantic evening in Austria. Hawke and Delpy reunited with director Richard Linklater in 2004 for Before Sunset, which saw Jesse and Celine meet again in Paris. Eighteen years later we learn that Jesse did indeed miss that plane and they are now married with twin daughters. The beauty in all three of Linklater's films is the power of conversation. Jesse and Celine have spent the majority of all three films discovering the beauty of three European countries while effortlessly floating in conversation. The words come so naturally to Jesse and Celine. The trio was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. And it should come as no surprise that the actors were heavily involved in the story once again. The conversation the third time around is a little more manic, like Jesse and Celine's relationship. There is such immense character in the setting as well. Set in Greece (not in a capital city for the first time), Before Midnight was filmed in August 2012 in Messenia. The immaculate beauty of Greece is contrasted somewhat by the instability of their marriage. Before Midnight is less charming and more intense than its predecessors, but the relationship between Jesse and Celine continues to sizzle on screen with conversation that will leave your head spinning. It is a worthy and fitting end to our cinematic affair with the mismatched couple, but I would still love to revisit the state of their relationship in another nine years.

Before Midnight pivots on three lengthy conversations. The beginning of the film deals with Jesse's desire to be a larger part of his son's life (with his ex-wife in Chicago). At dinner with their host Patrick (Walter Lassally) and his family, there is a lengthy discussion about love. And finally, at a hotel on the eve of returning home to France, Jesse and Celine have an inflamed argument about their past and future.

Jesse and Celine's relationship has never been perfect. At the beginning, they only had one night together before he had to return to the United States. They decide not to exchange information, leaving audiences shocked and angry. Nine years later, Celine tracks down Jesse in Paris after he has written a novel about their chance encounter. Yet all is not perfect. Jesse is married to a woman he no longer loves and he has a young son. Somehow, miraculously, in Before Midnight Jesse and Celine find themselves married and in love. They each have doubts about their future and the film culminates in a fierce verbal battle. There is beauty in how realistic their relationship is. They have honest problems and their arguments are justified. Delpy is such a talented actress that she demands the best from Hawke, whose filmography lacks consistent artistic merit. The same can be said for Richard Linklater, who has seen limited success outside of this trilogy. It is a shame that the parties involved say Before Midnight will be the last chapter. Jesse and Celine's relationship has never felt finished, but we are lucky to have witnessed their growth across eighteen years and three films.

My rating: 3.75 stars out of 4.

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