Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) sit at an outdoor Peloponnesian café watching the sunset.
“Still there, still there, gone” utters Celine – it’s the first night the two will have to themselves since having twin daughters.
It’s been 18 years since Celine and Jesse met on a train and made love; nine since the two rekindled their romance. The sweeping passion of first love and the yearning sense of capturing that feeling is nine years gone with the two now committed to parenthood. The tiptoeing anxiety of knowing what to say and how to say it seems to have vanished – the nine years have allowed the two to work out each others’ quirks and become more open, more blunt. Before Midnight, like its predecessors, woos you with its impeccable ear for dialogue. But more than Before Sunset or Before Sunrise, Before Midnight shoulders a broader and more powerful worldview – the films have matured in such a convincing and utterly fascinating manner. Vast and emotionally rigorous, Before Midnight’s beauty comes from its treatment of love within the confines of a relationship - if Celine and Jesse impart anything, it’s that passion and love are not mutually exclusive concepts.
Before Midnight’s dramatics stem from Jesse looking to relocate the family to Chicago to be closer to his son from his previous marriage. What initially looked like a night of unabated sexual release turns into a squabble between the two, where their fight reflects a sense of exhaustion and regret. It’s not to say the charming couple of Before Sunset and Before Sunrise are different, but rather the strains of age clearly show their signs. Ethan Hawke’s wrinkled brow and hoarse voice may overwhelm the playfulness that defined him in the first two pictures, but the jokester remains there. Julie Delpy may have put on a few pounds, but her confidence and sharp wit remain as defined as ever. What Richard Linklater Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy effectively capture is the growth of people through time and the constraints and freedoms of love.
The usual formal precision that defined the previous Before… films – long takes, gorgeous vistas, and wonderful conversations are still here. Both urgent and familiar, Before Midnight is the best film in Linklater’s trilogy for the clear sense of maturity it achieves. Everything about the film is riskier, looking to probe one of the most authentic couples in all of cinema. And like all the best films, I’ve found pieces of myself in this film. Watching the film with my girlfriend, our walk home saw us deconstruct our own behaviors and how we relate to Celine and Jesse. The film’s evocation of the little things, of shedding light on the typical relationship bullshit that needs to be endured, is so remarkably poignant. As an audience we may want to see Celine and Jesse have the sort of “happily ever after” ending that plagues most films, but what Before Midnight captures is that love is something that requires a hell of a lot of work. But it’s not like the film has a cynical ambition: we see the sun set in Before Midnight and while it might sometimes seem like it won’t rise, we know it will.