Directed by Richard Linklater
Richard Linklater’s third, and probably final, film about Jesse and Celine is one spring-summer sequel worth welcoming. As coyly revealed with a swish of the camera to a car’s backseat, the pair’s made-in-Eurail tryst (Before Sunrise) turned boulevard of broken dreams (Before Sunset) did eventually bear fruit: the American and the Parisian now have twin moppet girls, plus one son from his first marriage, seen off in that first scene. But where the first two films made melancholic harmonies over the fading of ideals and the temporal magic of love, Before Midnight shows the harder, sharper-elbowed realities that followed that heartsick play of feelings between two people who hoped/feared they would be larger than life to one another.
This is 40, you might say: Celine and Jesse are a couple, and we join them on vacation in sun-scorched Greece, where they visit with friends and then are bid to retreat to their own hotel for special private time. But in a triad of films whose beauty lies so much in artful self-echoes and personal parables, suffice to say that their time alone together at the hotel bears a marked resemblance to the German-language marital bickering that (you might rediscover to your surprise, too, upon revisiting) opens Before Sunrise. Rewatching the first two films is not necessary, but the one-two-three does show how this life in conversation moves from playful fronting to nostalgic forgiveness to merciless familiarity—and the comfort level to inflict deep hurt.
Jesse, now a successful writer, and Celine, a busy mother considering a career move, are willing to dredge up the past not just to luxuriate in past heartaches and romantic notions but also to restage battles. Before Midnight begins with the family in working order, on a long-take car ride, the mood segueing into the couples performances of alfresco dining with friends, before grinding to a halt in the dark places of a hotel-room clash. Movement is important to all three films, but if Sunrise and Sunset put their mutually dependent protagonists in front of moving backgrounds to trams, boats, and strolls, the third part of Before Midnight—some of the most incisive (and lacerating) romantic strife seen on screen in recent years, and what seals this bold film’s success—stays ominously still.
Both superb, never coasting, Delpy and Hawke have aged, reassuringly; yet in a way they seem to age within Before Midnight, too, Delpy especially from the early joshing to the hardened annoyance and resentment later on. The third film finds a greater distance traveled than that between the first and second. If once the young pair could be brashly cynical—and romantic—about so much because they had experienced little, now the accumulation of things said and done militate against the survival of the relationship, which rather than a dream is now real—and difficult. Jesse seems positioned, as the finally at-ease writer, to find the story that will tell the way out, yet the stereotypes and images they used to throw upon one another in play and argument now carry burdensome weight. The magic trick of the Before films is extended for one more what-happened-next, and it’s as terrifying and wondrous as any relationship can be.
Opens May 24