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Before Midnight - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Before Midnight
Directing: A
Acting: A
Writing: A
Cinematography: B+
Editing: A-

Before Midnight is the third in a series of films, each spaced nine years apart, that one can only hope will have further installments. It's conceptually like the 7-Up series, only fiction: we check in with Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) slightly less than once a decade.

In Before Sunrise (1995), Jesse meets Celine on a train in Budapest and convinces her to disembark with him and roam around the city all night, before he is to catch a flight in the morning. It's all walking and talking, with the initial sparks of romantic attraction. Before Sunset (2004) is nine years later; Jesse has written a best-selling novel based on their one night in Budapest, and Celine comes to meet him at his book tour stop in Paris; thus, once again, they spend a limited amount of time together, this time for a day, before he has to catch a flight.

Before Midnight takes a significant turn, because now Jesse and Celine are together, although not married, but they have twin daughters, in addition to the son Jesse was revealed to have had in the previous film. This one starts awkwardly, with Jesse saying goodbye to his son who is returning to the States to his mother after a summer visit, but that's the point: Jesse is dissatisfied with his relationship with his son (although his son seems perfectly fine). As soon as his son boards the plane, just before the film's title card, the camera pans to Jesse's deeply sad face -- and we know what kind of tone this movie is going to take. It's been eighteen years since Jesse and Celine first met; romance is no longer the dominant aspect of their relationship.

In fact, one might say the title of this installment is a reference to the beginning of the end of their relationship -- maybe. Richard Linklater, who directed (as he did with the previous films) and co-wrote with Hawke and Delpy (who also co-wrote the second film), wisely keeps the ultimate fate of their relationship ambiguous. But, unlike the previous films, in which even disagreements are playful, this time there is a lot of arguing and resentment. That said, never has a couple bickering in cinema been more compelling. You simply cannot take your eyes off of this movie.

There is something decidedly low-tech about this production, and it works splendidly. There probably isn't a single other movie in theatres right now with so few total shots; Linklater keeps the camera running, unbroken, for very long periods of time. After Jesse drops his son off at the airport, a shot of nearly stunning length features the point of view of us looking at Celine and Jesse from their car dashboard as they drive through the Greek countryside, their twin daughters asleep in the back seat. Celine and Jesse's conversation moves from playful to tense and back again multiple times. Jesse brings up his longing to be closer to his son more permanently; Celine talks about an apparently dubious job opportunity and a career path she seems to think only exists in Paris. And the most key moment happens during this conversation: Celine even says she is going to make note of it. "This is the beginning of the end, when our relationship starts to fall apart."

And the rest of the film, much of which is spent with Celine and Jesse as houseguests of friends, many of whom join in the beautifully polished dialogue (another difference from the previous films, which were much more focused on solely Jesse and Celine), is a trek through that unraveling, as they are on this trip. To what degree their relationship is unraveling is up for us to guess; the two say hurtful things to each other but clearly love each other. During good moments, of which there are plenty, they seem like a cohesive couple, laughing and having intellectually stimulating conversation -- although they both admit that being on this trip is the only thing making that possible; the rest of their lives are too busy with typical everyday-life bullshit. In one particularly wonderful scene, they and their friends are all sitting at a table over dinner, the people there representing at least three generations, and they all offer their takes on love and relationships, particularly in the context of both history and technology (they reference social media -- something that was not a part of their worlds in the past). It's both fun and bittersweet; it all seems to underscore the transient nature of everything in our lives, including the people we love.

Jesse and Celine have plenty of time alone as well, walking through centuries-old buildings or the countryside while on an overnight hotel stay gifted to them by friends, reviving much of the feel and vibe of the previous films. But then they are inside their hotel room, and a lot of bitterness bubbles to the surface. It's by turns funny and touching and sad; it's really true that I laughed and I cried. That's a cliché and happens in lot of movies but not often in just a single scene. Suffice it to say that all of these conversations, whether they go in a positive or negative direction, are riveting and a privilege to be witness to.

Jesse mentions at one point that he is 41 years old. This would make him 23 in the first film and 32 in the second. If by some miracle we get another one of these movies in nine years, he will be 50. We can only hope, and this movie easily leaves us wondering where Jesse and Celine will be at that time. Will they still be together? Will they be separated? Either way, it's clear that these three people -- Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy -- are capable of bringing us another chapter that is every bit as great. I feel like marking my calendar.

Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are bittersweet revelations in BEFORE MIDNIGHT.

Overall: A
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