Before Midnight

Before MidnightSynopsis: Jesse and Celine first met on a Eurail train and experienced 14 hours of deep connection as they explored Vienna. Nine years later, Celine found Jesse at a Paris book store, the last stop on his book tour. They had one day together before he was meant to fly out that night. Now, we meet up with the two off-and-on lovers nine years later, in Greece.

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Before Midnight 8.25

eyelights: the dialogues. Julie Delpy.
eyesores: the opening sequence at the airport.

“Well it must have been one hell of a night we are about to have.”

When I heard that Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke were planning to make not just a follow-up to ‘Before Sunrise‘, but a whole series, I was both elated and curious.

On the one hand, I loved the idea of catching up to the characters every so often (every nine years, as it happens). On the other hand, I wondered how they would continue it, given that our duo, Jesse and Céline, are off and on and off again; how long could they stretch it?

Above all else, though, my mind reeled at trying to guess what the title of the next one would be. Seriously. After ‘Before Sunset‘, I wondered what direction they would take and how they would tie it in with the story: Would it be ‘After Sunset’? ‘After Sunrise’? ‘Before Dusk’? ‘Before Dawn’?

Well, ‘Before Midnight’ it is. And it is everything I could have expected, hoped for, and more.

Obviously, as a fan of the series, I’m a bit biased. That is true. However, I was slightly disappointed with the last one: even though the dialogues were interesting, it didn’t touch me in quite the same way as the first had; the magic was distilled somewhat. So I figured that the third installment could very well diffuse my enjoyment some more.

*Spoiler alert*

The opening sequence added to the worry. It revolved around Jesse dropping off his teenaged son at the airport after a summer together. It felt like any regular Hollywood film, both in the way it was constructed, and in the interactions between the two characters, which were clearly scripted, not naturalistic like the series’ exchanges had been thus far.Furthermore, Ethan Hawke’s performance flirted with hamminess, being a smidge too emotive to be true to life. And when the camera focused on Jesse watching his son go through the metal detector, whisked away from his life, Hawke looked like he was trying too hard and failing; there wasn’t any subtlety in that moment.

I have to go on record as saying that my opinion may be affected by my dislike of Hawke. Ever since ‘Reality Bites’, I’ve had a deep aversion to him and any film he’s in. As far as I’m concerned ‘Before Sunrise’ was a diamond in the rough. (And to think that I would have skipped it because of him if not for the fact that it came highly recommended by a friend!)

Also, I should that my gf found the opening sequence really touching, perhaps even the most moving part of the whole picture. She is the mother of a teenaged son, though – so it’s definitely likely that she connected to this moment in a way that I couldn’t understand at all. So I have to give this sequence a passing grade if only because it’s clear others may not feel the way that I do.

Nonetheless, I started the film with some trepidation. I began to wonder if it would completely change the tone that was set by the first two films. Filmmakers sometimes make mistakes in their careers, and staying true to a great formula while keeping it fresh is not an easy task by any measure. People want more of the same, but not exactly the same thing (ex: ‘The Hangover Part II‘)

After the opening salvo, however, it became clear that we were back on track: Jesse met up with Céline and they drove off in their car, with two daughters in tow in the back seat, both of them asleep. Céline and Jesse started to discuss all manners of things, some trivial, some not, some melancholy, some more practical – like two real people on a road trip.

And so I thought: “Oh, I see! They’re going to drive this one instead of walk this one, as they did the last two times!”

I was amused by the idea. I figured that, as adults, they likely had a different perspective on things; strolling about aimlessly is hardly something that one would do at that age, with parental responsibilities and other demands nipping at their heels. I also wondered how they would keep the two girls asleep for the whole picture. It intrigued me.

Thing is, Linklater, Delpy and Hawke (who co-wrote the script together), didn’t keep the pair in the car. That’s where they decided to change up the series’ structure. What they did is to break up the dialogues into four parts: 1) the car ride, 2) a dinner with friends, 3) a walk to the hotel, 4) a heated discussion in the hotel room. (There are also a few connecting bits.)

*Spoiler alert*

Although it’s a very different film from the first two structurally, ‘Before Midnight’ is fully related in that it’s all talk, no action. The intention of the film is to give us a peek at the character’s lives now, at a slice of their lives, all the while pondering some of the questions about values, politics, relationships, sex and, of course, love, that come to mind well into adulthood.

The action is in the intellectual discourse, of course. It’s a film that would only be of interest to people who relish these sorts of discussions or who share such thoughts. And for those people, ‘Before Midnight’ (as with the whole series, naturally) delivers incessant action – there is nary a moment that doesn’t offer something to think about.

I particularly liked the roundtable discussion with all the couples, the widow and the host. What was interesting was how each dynamic was palpably different, how they approached their relationships from different perspectives – sometimes due to generational divides, sometimes simply because of the mixture of individuals.

One of the couples stood out because they assumed that they wouldn’t be together forever; that, with time, things would pull them apart or they would grow in different directions. It was sobering and reassuring to think that the expectation of “forever and always” can be cast aside, exchanging this unrealistic pressure for a savouring of the present moment to its fullest.

I was also extremely moved by the widow, as she explained what it felt like to lose her partner of so many years, how some memories began to fade away. Her noticeable disappointment hit me. One of the things that keeps our memories alive is the constant interaction with the source of those memories. What does one do when that source is extinguished?

The whole cast was excellent. Although there is a script, most of the exchanges (i.e. all except the opening segment) were incredibly natural-looking and sounding, as though Linklater had captured a real moment in time, with real people. Delpy was terrific as per usual, and even Hawke managed to give off a performance that I was able to believe in.

But, as a side-note, I can’t help but wonder what happened to Hawke over the years. When he started, this pretty boy had the pretension of passing himself as no less a poet, and a serious thespian to boot, married Uma Thurman, and basically seemed to have the world in his hand. He annoyed the !@#$ out of me, not because of his success, but because I failed to see how he deserved it.

Nowadays, he’s a raggedy shadow of his former self. Based on this film, I’d say that he’s become a better actor of the years, but he’s weary-looking, aged, with grooves etched into his forehead, and a burnt out voice akin to that of a young Nick Nolte. Is it a case of too much smoking and drinking? Of a generally unhealthy lifestyle? Or has been through the wringer?

I don’t really care, actually, but I do wonder what the bloody heck happened to Ethan Hawke. Curious minds want to know, ya know?

In the end it doesn’t matter. What matters is that ‘Before Midnight’ is a stellar follow-up to the series. In my estimation it might even surpass the original (I’ll have to watch them consecutively to see). I related to much of it, as I’m sure many adults would, given their accumulated life experiences; my gf and I laughed knowingly as Jesse and Celine bickered and suffered from lapses in communication.

It’s a well-crafted motion picture, and it’s a stimulating one. Fans of Woody Allen, Eric Rohmer, or any other talkies would be well-served by a film such as this one – and the beauty is that they don’t need to see the first two to enjoy it. But fans of the previous installment are obviously better served, as it takes Céline and Jesse’s relationship to its natural course.

Assuming that Linklater, Delpy and Hawke continue the series, I’m am extremely eager to see ‘Before Midday’.

…or will that be ‘Before Midmorning’? ‘Before Lunchtime’? ‘Before Teatime’? ‘Before…’

Date of viewing: June 29, 2013

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