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Flicks - Before Midnight
Before Midnight 13/07/04 3:26
Flicks - Before Midnight
The third film in Richard Linklater's trio about man-woman relationships cuts right to the bone--the need to go past romance. In 1995, Richard Linklater, one of the rising talents of that era's indie film renaissance, came out with a movie called Before Sunrise. Ethan Hawke plays Jessie, an American who meets Celine, a young French woman played by Julie Delpy, on a train in Europe. They hit it off, and end up spending an evening together in Vienna, all with the bittersweet awareness that they will probably never see each other again. The film gradually built a following and became something of a cult favorite. Then in 2004, Linklater reunited the two actors in Before Sunset. This time Celine goes to see Jesse, now married and a published novelist, at a book signing in Paris. This film takes place in close to real time, and once more it's mostly conversation—although the first one was about the joy of discovering someone new, this one is about shared recognition of aging and the passage of time.
Now, in 2013, another nine years later, and Linklater brings us Before Midnight. Jesse, we find, has left his wife, who has custody of their one son, and he and Celine have twin daughters. They are vacationing in southern Greece, having been invited to stay with a famous writer in his villa. This seemingly relaxed set-up, with the addition of a few other characters in the story, sets the stage for an experience that is both tremendously different from the first two films, and yet consistent with the director's overall style and vision.
I have to say that Richard Linklater has turned out to be one of the most remarkable talents in American film. He's always been interested in characters who talk intelligently and at length about, well, anything—their own lives and obsessions, even philosophy. This is true of practically all of his movies. If you don't like lots of talk, you won't care for Linklater, but the amazing thing is that the talk is rarely boring. In Before Midnight, we have an extended sequence with Hawke and Delpy talking in the car on the way to the villa, and the dialogue is both natural and involving. The next set piece is a conversation with eight people at dinner, all about the tricky relationships between men and women, and the talk flows so easily that you may only notice later how it sets up our main couple with dramatic contrast. Finally, in a hotel room, with only the two alone, we see with absolute clarity the painful fissures in their relationship. Throughout the picture, Hawke gets in a lot of funny quips and comebacks, but Delpy holds her own pretty well. The remarkable chemistry between the two leads is augmented by the fact that they helped write the screenplay.
So besides wonderful dialogue, acting, and photography, what do we have here? Linklater has done a brave thing. The first two films were still under the spell of romance. This one is how actually living with someone, having children together, and the challenge of accepting a partner, even at his or her worst. Linklater knows that many of us—I won't say all, but many, end up facing our darkest fears in the form of our partners. And we end up saying things, and doing things, we never thought we would. Things we will always regret. And what does love look like after that? Do you give up? Sometimes, maybe you have to. Or do you find something greater, something more than just romanticism, a deeper honesty with oneself, a grounding in what makes one fallible and human, and yet still willing to extend oneself into love? That's the question Before Midnight poses, and the reality it shows us is a beautiful and sad and profound thing to see.