Written by Guillermo Troncoso.
Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine’s (Julie Delpy) story began around eighteen years ago. They met each other on a train in Europe and ended up spending a night together in Vienna. That was Before Sunrise, a simple yet honest film about two young people falling in love. The film was followed nine years later by Before Sunset, in which Jesse and Celine meet again in France. At this point, Jesse is married and has a child, and Celine has a career with an environmental protection organization. Needless to say, there’s one question that weighs heavily on their minds and ours: do they still love each other?
Both of those films were dialogue driven, full of very long takes where scenes were played out mostly in real-time. The third film in the series, Before Midnight, follows the same format. We meet up with Jesse and Celine on vacation in Greece nine years after the events in Before Sunset. They are in their early forties and have two beautiful girls. Once again, we become a part of their lives and observe their ruminations on everything from love to life itself.
What makes this simple series so wonderful is a combination of pitch-perfect performances with honest, well-written screenplays. Director Richard Linklater has ensured that both Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy have a hand in creating the screenplay (the three of them are credited as writers) and it’s clear to see that this is a team made in heaven.
The film is made up of a handful of long sequences that are no longer as positive or hopeful as those in the first two films. While it is safe to assume that Jesse and Celine still love each other, they are no longer in the exciting first stages of love. They have been together for almost ten years and the film explores their emotions that have accumulated over time. They have regrets. Regrets of dreams that were not chased and of words that were not said.
The film builds to a confrontation in a hotel room that happens to be one of the most powerful and impressive scenes I’ve seen in cinema for a while. Brutal, funny, heartbreaking and honest. The equivalent of a bare-knuckle boxing match, Jesse and Celine decide to spill the beans on everything that they dislike about each other. Everything comes together beautifully. Staging, direction and performances working together for a tough scene, made all the more brutal by the desire we have for them to stay together.
The aforementioned regrets and confrontation aside, Before Midnight still manages to be quite funny. Discussions on gender expectations, faithfulness, parenthood and sex provide some hilarious observations that many will be able to connect with. This is what ultimately makes the film work. Adults of all ages will be able to find a truth to hold on to. Neither Jesse or Celine is made out to be the bad-guy, which serves the film well. It’s like eavesdropping on a couple’s argument and being able to see both sides equally.
In terms of performances, it will be hard to find others this year that match the ones delivered by Hawke and Delpy. Both actors are exceptional, holding the audience through some incredibly long takes. It must be terrifying to act out very long sequences of dialogue while trying to keep it looking natural and spontaneous, but they succeed admirably.
Before Midnight can be painful, and at times brutal, in its attempt to give us an honest exploration of this relationship, but it still manages to be very romantic and quite funny. Richard Linklater and company have crafted a simple masterpiece here, providing insight and emotion in equal measure.
THE REEL SCORE: 9/10