Maybe Richard Linklater’s Before films never grace the tops of best-of lists the way they should is because what makes the series so special is essentially invisible. The script and acting are so natural and exact they hardly register as dialogue or performances, and Linklater—the most underrated filmmaker of his generation?—directs so elegantly that the camera seems to disappear. We’re there with these characters, and after three films now we know them and love them. Before Midnight maintains the series’ perfect 1.000 batting average; this is the deepest and best of the three, and while it contains elements of Before Sunrise‘s romantic idealism, it’s as honest a depiction of the difficulty of maintaining relationships as any American cinema has to offer. (Newcomers to the series will miss a great deal of the resonance.)
Midnight once again follows Ethan Hawke’s and Julie Delpy’s Jesse and Celine as they walk around Europe and have a conversation that, no matter what else may be the topic, is always really about whether they can spend their lives together. (The one sequence that doesn’t work is the series’ first group conversation, which is too on the nose in establishing the film’s themes and offering counterexamples to Jesse and Celine’s relationship.) This time their conversation is more grounded and concrete, far from the old philosophical flirtiness, and by now the two know each other well enough to know exactly how to hurt the other. It climaxes with a sequence that is as well-written and acted as any you’ll see this year; in the intensity of its emotional whiplash, comparisons to Eugene O’Neill aren’t unjustified.
Like Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, this film concludes on a note of perfect ambiguity, which will serve as a satisfying series finale until the next installment proves utterly essential as well. This is a romantic, draining, beautiful and life-affirming movie.
This screens tonight. (It’ll open in theaters next month.) Click here for more info.