VOD film review: Before Midnight
James R | On 29, Oct 2013
Director: Richard Linklater
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy
“It’s still there. It’s still there…”
That’s Celine (Delpy), as she sits with Jesse (Hawke) watching a sun set behind Greek mountains. Nine years on from their last fling in Paris, the couple is clinging on to that first spark of romance, even as it floats away from them. It may sound forced but Richard Linklater’s latest Before entry feels as real as ever. After seeing Jesse and Celine meet on a train in 1995, then reconnect in France in 2004, Before Midnight isn’t just the next chapter in their relationship – it’s like catching up with old friends.
There aren’t many films that can claim such a sensation. Then again, there aren’t many films like this. Before Sunrise wooed audiences with its decision to simply show two people talking for 90 minutes and nothing else. In an age of Avengers and CGI men of steel, Before Midnight amazes by being brave enough to do it again.
Now, of course, things have changed for the pair: originally young lovers laughing at middle-aged people on trains, now Jesse and Celine are in the other seats looking back. Commitments have gotten in the way. The years have stacked up. They can’t just hook up on impulse – they have to plan in advance if they want a quiet night at a hotel.
But any attempt at an amorous tryst inevitably descends into arguments about gender and age. “The only good thing about being over 35 is you’re less likely to get raped,” spits a volatile Julie Delpy at a bemused Ethan Hawke. They’ve settled into the roles so much that they switch from casual to confrontational with barely a breath, your sympathies hopping between them. Both credited as screenwriters alongside Linklater, their dialogue is as raw as a fly-on-the-wall documentary, a naturalism heightened (or un-heightened) by Richard’s long takes – the opening scene, a 15-minute single shot of them driving, flirting and bickering, is worth the ticket price alone.
Despite being so recognisably part of a series – even the combination of twee piano and tourist hotspot returns – Linklater disappears completely into the film. By the time Jesse and Celina are joking about sci-fi and reliving how they met, you plum forget there’s a camera filming them.
“Jump ahead 10, 20 years. You’re married. But your marriage doesn’t have that same energy it used to have. You start to blame your husband. You start to think about all those other guys you met in your life and what might have happened if you picked up with one of them… I’m one of those guys. Think of this as time travel, from then to now.”
Jesse’s monologue from that naïve first night back in 1995 gets a reprise in this film, but while it remains faithful to its characters, Before Midnight introduces a candor lacking in most on-screen romances. If the first movie was about the thrill of what love could be, and the second what it should be, the third shows what it really is – a series of slammed doors and topless rows, as much as a string of sunlit walks and witty dinner conversations. That sincerity coupled with their enduring chemistry make this a moving, provocative and engrossing reunion with two enjoyably familiar faces. In their company, time flies by. And that magic that enchanted almost two decades ago? It’s still there.