Before Midnight

9 Jul

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Warning: This review will contain spoilers for Before Sunrise and Before Sunset – do not read on if you don’t want to know what happens up to this point.

It’s been nine years since Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) last ripped out viewer’s hearts, before leaving us on an incredible, did-they/didn’t-they? finish, in which it was insinuated Jesse would miss his flight back home, before the screen went dark. Now, in Before Midnight, the third movie of Richard Linklater’s magnificent Before trilogy, we get to peak into their lives for another one hour and fifty minutes.

Fair warning; You may consider some of what I discuss here to be plot spoilers. Anything I do ‘spoil’ is actually revealed in the first five minutes of the film. However, if you’re like me and want to know nothing about this film before seeing it, don’t read on.

Ok then; the good news is that we get an immediate answer to did-they/didn’t they? conundrum. It turns out they did. Jesse and Celine are still a couple and have two children. Jesse is living in Europe and his son with his ex-wife has spent the summer with him. The son very quickly jets off back to America, but his shadow looms large over the movie.

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In introducing us to a new character, the film immediately is of grander scale than the previous two in the series. In fact, there are several new characters, as the couple are on holiday with friends in an idyllic setting in Greece. We spend a significant portion of the film in the company of these other people, and they are well written and interesting. However, as good as these characters are, and as intelligent as their dialogue is, anybody watching this film is there for only one thing; more Jesse and Celine. With this in mind, I don’t mind admitting that there were times where I was getting a little impatient for the story to move on. However, in writing a fair review I must stress that that is through no fault of the movie. I was enjoying everything on screen, and it is more down to the strength of the relationship established in the first two films that I was just desperate to see Jesse and Celine hog the limelight once more. Of course, I should have trusted Richard Linklater as a director. When Jesse and Celine are finally alone, their scenes are explosive. I’d argue they are better than anything that has gone before, though it is also true that the best scenes in this film would not have anything like the same resonance if the first two weren’t so mind-bogglingly good.

I’d also say that now, 18 years after this film series began, it is a good thing to have more characters introduced. Seeing Jesse and Celine interact with each other around their friends adds a whole lot of depth to their characters and is actually a welcome addition.

I wrote in my Before Sunset review that the character development between that and Before Sunrise was an incredible achievement. Nine years elapsed between those two films and yet there were no faults at all in characterisation. Well, the same is true here, only the brilliance is amplified significantly because there’s an 18 year gap between Before Sunrise and this latest update. And yet still the story arcs and character progression feel natural and entirely realistic. Within five minutes of Before Sunrise starting, I had written on my little notepad, “The woman is exploring her neurosis early on”. Only a quick note on a pad; An almost inconsequential little scribble. However, that sticks with me as almost two decades later, we see that Celine’s neurosis is as present as it ever was, only now it threatens to have a negative impact on her relationship, as opposed to being a quirky trait that some bloke on a train found endearing.

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I must say that, just as proved to be the case in the previous works, Julie Delpy is incredible here. Linklater, Hawke and Delpy all write the characters together and so must take equal credit for the quality of the characterisation. However, in actually getting to the heart of the woman she is portraying, Delpy is the star. The more the film progresses, the more it feels like this one is more her story than Jesse’s. I don’t feel quite right in saying that as Jesse is integral to everything and Hawke is absolutely perfect again, but Delpy’s performance is award-worthy.

I’ve suggested in previous reviews that one of the key achievements of the Before series is the believability of the two leads. Their relationship continues to feel like it exists in the real world, and the way they react to each other is so natural it almost feels voyeuristic to watch, like we’re spying on real people. It is Delpy more than Hawke who epitomises this. One of the areas this film explores that we’ve previously not been near is how the pair argue. It is through this exploration and these disputes that we see outbursts and character developments from Delpy that have been hinted at ever since Celine first said hello to Jesse on that train. It’s like a deep, rumbling distant sound has finally built up into an overwhelming crescendo that crashes down over the film and the audience. It feels right, it’s all deeply moving and Delpy is so good and convincing that at times it felt wrong to watch, but it would have been too much of a wrench to look away.

It was only during this installment of the trilogy that I realised an assertion I had made early on in Before Sunrise, and since accepted as true, was actually complete and utter nonsense. That assertion was that a huge part of the films beauty was how simple it was. Well, I made a huge error to assume that. It struck me during Before Midnight that actually, this is extremely complex film-making. It is, in my movie watching experience, almost entirely unique in terms of story craft. To create a movie this endearing and a couple this relatable is far from simple, it takes a skill so great I can barely comprehend it.

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Another thing that hit home far more during this film is the profound effect it has had on me. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that this series has in some way altered my perception of what a film can really offer. I now, in one way or another, accept Jesse and Celine as people. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve not lost the plot, I know they’re fictional, but their story is so real that I accept them in my life as real people. They are somewhere wandering the Earth. I can fully believe that, whatever state their relationship may be in, there are living their lives somewhere and hopefully, in the future, we’ll get to drop in on them again. Can cinema really do any more than that? It entertains and it has meaning. I feel emotionally invested in this couple and I can’t wait for the next installment, if there is one.

I have thought long and hard about what score to give this film. Although at the start I was a little worried about the direction it might go in with regard to new characters, they are actually crucial in forming the plot of the movie and, in hindsight, they are a crucial part of the film. If I ask myself, “How could Before Midnight be any better?” then I am completely stumped for an answer. As a stand alone film it is a stunning piece of art; as a trilogy (so far) there is no score I could give it that would reflect my love or the scale of achievement in crafting this 18 year long story.

10/10

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One Response to “Before Midnight”

  1. madisonmovie July 10, 2013 at 03:16 #

    Great article, Richard, and thanks for the kind words you left on my review. I didn’t put this in my review, but I’m in total agreement that Midnight benefits from the addition of other characters and expansion of Jesse and Celine’s world beyond themselves. If there’s another installment (in 2022, if they keep to the schedule?) I imagine we’ll hear a lot from those 16-year-old twins . . .

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