Contextual Comment: Alright, I’ve been side-tracked for a few months now, I will be finishing up 2012 movie listings and reviews soon enough. Been writing, and of course watching movies, for other sites. Just wanted to get this one out, only Upstream Color and 56 Up rank higher this year, according to me, thus far… enjoy.
So romance movie lovers, should Linklater, Delpy, and Hawke continue this story of a lasting relationship all the way until it becomes ‘Amour’? Yeah, let’s try not to dwell on that one…
What began in 1995 with the sleeper hit ‘Before Sunrise’, and continued with the equally well-received 2004 sequel ‘Before Sunset’, comes to the end(?) with ‘Before Midnight’. American Independent Cinema Icon Richard Linklater once again helms a fly-on-the-wall style story, listening in on the scintillating conversations between American Ex-patriot Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and deeply-opinionated French-girl Celine (Julie Delpy). The crux of the movie, and the franchise, is the dialoge and chemistry between the two leads as they walk-about and shoot the breeze about everything going on in and around their lives. The most important aspect has remained that these are not “Screenwriter’s Dialoge” scenes, they feel organic and germane to actual couples’s conversations. Hawke and Delpy are again credited as co-writers, as with the previous installment, and it shows as the words flow effortlessly between the two.
When we last left the two way-ward lovers, Jesse was a disillusioned writer (are there any other types of movie writers?) on a book tour in Paris. Celine having read his book believed it was an account of the night the two shared together 9 years before in Vienna, and she isn’t far off. The two share another elongated walk, this time through the streets of Paris, and afterwards as Celine serenades him with her cover of Nina Simone’s ‘Just In Time’ Jesse makes the ultimate decision to stay with Celine in Paris, leaving behind his family in America. That ending gave fans of the bittersweet ‘Before Sunrise’ a miracle in a movie: a second chance at the one who got away.
Which brings us to the third installment of the so-called ‘Before’ saga, finding Jesse and Celine, another nine years after the events of the previous movie, vacationing in Greece. Having just said good-bye to his son, Henry, from his failed marriage we pick-up on the talkative couple. They drive, have food with friends, walk, and try to have a night of romance, all the while maintaining lengthy and nuanced conversations about… well everything. From Jesse’s next book idea, to past love affairs, to the very nature of relationships, to their kids, and to the way things were. Although these two people are no doubt the same couple we have grown to love over the past 18 years, they certainly have changed, by getting older, having children together and being in a relationship for a prolonged period of time. As the title suggests this sequel is a tad “darker” in its execution, dealing with all-too-real long-term relationship obstacles. Seeds of major discourse and friction that have been growing steadily between the two are planted throughout the narrative, all is not well in paradise. Leading to near “Bergman-esque” declarations and accusations.
If ‘Sunrise’ can be considered the flirty first meeting, ‘Sunset’ the consummation of that meeting, then ‘Midnight’ can be considered awakening the morning after. To reveal more about the generally plotless wandering story would be a disservice to the experience of seeing these two once again shoot-the-breeze for nearly two hours. I’ll instead concentrate on what has gravitated audiences and generations of movie-goers to these two seemingly ‘normal’ everyday people. And that is the very reason, it is in fact the character’s normalcy and natural portrayals that keep us revisiting Jesse and Celine through their now 18-year-old romance. Although the two are clearly very “artsy-types” (Jesse is the know-it-all cynical writer and Celine is the temperamental musician-type) there are characteristics in each that are universal amongst everyone susceptible to feeling alone and wanting to be loved.
We feel like we know these people as dear good friends, because most of us either know a “Jesse” or a “Celine”, know a couple who are just like them, or know that we are one of the two deep down inside. It is an amazing feat, to make a love-story so personally unique, but at the same time universally understandable. Hawke and Delpy both are now acting veterans of several decades, and they are never better than in this film saga. Their naturalistic approaches do the material wonders, as their mannerisms, cadence and rapport between them are all able to convey a couple nearing a decade spent together. However, familiarity, as some of you may know, is a double-edged sword, because the two of them can say and do things that are simply soul-crushing to their partner. Germs of pent-up frustration and angst over a prolonged period of time, especially when it is spent with a lover, can manifest themselves in absolutely terrifying ways.
There are two things not for the faint of heart: getting old and staying in a committed relationship. ‘Midnight’ forces the star-crossed lovers to tackle those two things head on. It is jarring to see most people’s favorite fictional couple having to face the real-world consequences of their supposed match made in heaven. Jesse is separated from his son and the rest of his family in America choosing to stay with Celine, he didn’t want to have his son feel torn between two sets of countries and parents. He feels a burden of guilt due to his decision and play for happiness. Celine has to come to terms with the fact that he basically dropped his entire life to be with her, but at the same time she wants him to be aware that he can’t completely control and dictate their lives together just because of that fact. Celine was and will always be an independently-driven-worldly Woman, and not even the love of her life will change that for her.
Another contender for best of year is the latest continuation of Michael Apted’s fantastic and inspiring Up Series ’56 up’ which has much of the same ideas of this fictional series. That of returning to people at certain intervals in life as time wears on, in order to see how people mature as they grow old. The many subjects in ’56 Up’ have given their on-camera summaries (some could say confessionals…) of the outlook of their lives every seven years since they were 7 year-olds in 1964. Richard Linklater here isn’t touching on as many concepts and characters as Apted does in those movies, but it has no less universal appeal. Rest assured, there is just as much truth to be mined in these fictional fabrications as in the Up series.
The best and worst thing that can be said about ‘Before Midnight’ is that it ends too quickly, we want to keep going with these two but leaves us wanting so much more. Perhaps that is a story for a forth installment (Before…Noon? eh, doesn’t quite grab your attention). From the first time these two met by chance on a train heading to Vienna in ’95, to the moments right before midnight here, we know (just as the Jesse and Celine do) that we were going to be in this for the long haul.
9.8/10 (Go in and meet up with some old friends, take stock of your own life, you know the whole experience)
‘Before Midnight’ is now playing in theaters all around the USA