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Before Midnight (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 27, 2023

Before Midnight


Starring Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Walter Lassally, Yannis Papadopoulos, Athina Rachel Tsangari, Ariane Labed, Panos Koronis, Xenia Kalogeropoulou, Jennifer Prior, Charlotte Prior, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, Yota Argyropoulou, Serafeim Radis, Enrico Focardi, Manolis Goussias and Anouk Servera.

Screenplay by Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke.

Directed by Richard Linklater.

Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics.  108 minutes.  Rated R.

“Maybe we would have hated each other eventually….  Maybe we’re only good at brief encounters, walking around in European cities in warm climate.”

That line was spoken on one of those touristy boats on the Seine in Paris as part of one of the most fascinating explorations of love relationships in film history.

The series began with Before Sunrise (1995), when a young American tourist named Jesse (Ethan Hawke) met a French woman named Celine (Julie Delpy) and they spend his last night in Europe walking around Vienna and falling in love.  Due to youthful bravado, they left it to fate and when one of them was not able to show up six months later at a planned reunion, they had no way to contact each other.

Before Sunset (2004) explored that long-delayed reunion.  Nine years later, Jesse had written a book on the couple’s night together and Celine showed up at the Paris appearance on his book tour.  He was unhappily married and she was involved in a series of bad relationships, but the spark was still there.  They had an hour-and-a-half to explore Paris before his flight home.  They each realized that the other was the one that got away in their life.  That was when Celine spoke the above quote, trying to be rational about their lost opportunities.  The film finished a bit ambiguously, but it strongly suggested that the couple was not planning on letting each other go again.

Nine more years have passed and Jesse and Celine return again for Before Midnight.  And, honestly, Before Midnight is a bit of a shock to the system of fans who have dedicated the past 18 years to the notion that the two were the ideal couple just held apart by fickle fate.

Before Midnight is a very different beast in many ways from the first two films, though it is extremely good in it’s own way.  Before Midnight shows what happens to true love at first sight when the minutiae and problems of real life intrude.

I hope it is not a spoiler to say that Jesse and Celine have now been together for nine years and have twin daughters.   That is strongly hinted at, though not exactly stated, in the film’s trailer, so I think I’m on pretty safe ground, but if you wanted to go into the film completely surprised, I apologize.  And while I am not going to give away many specific plot points, don’t read further until after you have seen the movie.

Before Midnight is a less romantic film in many ways (though in other ways it is very romantic).  This is what love looks like when the bloom is off the rose and people have to learn what it is like to be with the other person on a constant basis.

The difference in Before Midnight is stark from the beginning.  For the first half hour or so, Celine and Jesse are never alone and not talking directly with each other much of the time.  From an airport farewell to Jesse’s son from his first marriage to a dinner with friends in a little Greek villa, the only time the two have together is in the car, and even then their girls are there (though sleeping at least part of the time.).

It is a bit of an odd dynamic for the couple, because in the first two films there were other characters who passed through, but the two of them were always completely focused upon each other.  And when they do interact, the audience quickly notices some innocuous statements feel a lot like jabs.

When the two of them finally break away for a walk through the Greek village and a romantic hotel tryst, those jabs slowly boil over into an out-and-out fight.  All sorts of issues are festering beneath the surface: her job, his writing, his custody fight with his ex-wife, her concerns about their twin daughters, moving, not moving, age, their differences, sex.  In fact, Jesse and Celine probably spend more of Before Midnight fighting than they do not fighting.

Like I said, it is something of a shock.  We would have never really expected this from these characters.  But this is what true love looks like in real time, I suppose.  Eventually romance is trumped – or at least hindered – by realism.

However the acting and writing is so strong and Hawke and Delpy have such amazing chemistry together after all this time that even in the more strident moments, the movie is quite stunning.

It was actually rather brave of Hawke and Delpy and director Richard Linklater (who co-wrote the screenplay) to take a warts-and-all look at this ideal couple that they have created over the decades.  We care so much about these people that their casual insults upset the audience nearly as much as they upset each other.

When I interviewed Delpy about Before Sunset nine years ago, she did not even expect there would be a third film.  “I don’t think we’ll do another one,” she had said.  “I mean, I don’t know for sure.  If we figure out an idea that we like, but I doubt it.  We had the luck to do two.  That’s already amazing.”

In many ways, Before Midnight ends up being rather romantic, though in different, more grounded ways than the other two chapters of the series.  Love can only stay passionate for so long, eventually it shows itself in other ways.  Before Midnight digs deeper into this relationship and ends up being a stunning examination of the problems of a couple hitting middle age.

I’m personally happy that they are allowing us to continue to take the ride with this couple, even when things get a little bumpy.  The Before movies have become one of the best and most consistently fascinating trilogies in Hollywood history.  Not that I want to limit it to three films.  I hope we will get to see where Jesse and Celine are in their lives in 2022.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2013 All rights reserved. Posted: May 24, 2013.

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