2013 - 109 minutes
Directed by: Richard Linklater
Written by: Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy
Over the past 18 years, director Richard Linklater and actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy have treated us to roughly four and half hours of screen time covering 2-plus days in the lives of couple Jesse and Celine. Though the actual time spent with them is limited, we feel the entire 18 years.
We also see them. These aren’t the fresh-faced 20-somethings who struck up a conversation and a spark on the Budapest to Paris train in 1995's “Before Sunrise.” Lines are visible in both of their faces, Jesse’s goatee speckled with gray and Celine’s eyes tired. These characters are so well realized on screen, with dialogue and simple actions that ring so true, a few chapters are all we need to fill in the rest of the story ourselves. Hawke and Delpy have such great chemistry it is impossible for us to not believe anything they say or do while inhabiting these characters. It is so refreshing to see believability and intelligence intertwined into their narrative.
The “Before Midnight” episode begins with Jesse seeing off his middle-school aged son Hank (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) at the airport, sending him back to the United States and his mother, described as a generally horrible person through the film. Hank, Jessie and Celine and their twin daughters are wrapping up a summer sojourn in southern Greece, guests at a writer’s retreat.
One interesting aspect of this film has the couple interacting with more supporting players instead of just becoming lost in each other. An engrossing dinner scene involves two more couples and their elderly hosts who discuss a wide range of generational topics, social media and the nature of complex relationships forged by complex individuals. When the younger couple mentions how they handle physical distance by using Skype, we’re reminded just how much relationships have changed in the 2 decades since “Before Sunrise.” It seems unimaginable that two people could meet and really connect and then lose touch with each other for 9 years until the events of “Before Sunset.” Or, that is, the event – where Jesse has a book signing in Paris and Celine appears, the pair talking the afternoon away.
But the logistics of how they’ve gotten here don’t matter anymore. When they’re asked how they met, the whole episode is glossed over and not romanticized, simply that they met on a train and reconnected many years later. They’ve matured and moved forward, and with that advancement comes more immediate concerns, ones that in “Before Midnight” are not glamorized or exaggerated, but addressed head on with an extended argument serving as an emotional climax.
Some of their Greek friends have gifted Jesse and Celine a romantic night’s stay at a nearby hotel while they babysit the twins. Is the couple’s attempt to back out of the gift during dinner a courtesy gesture, or are they unsure they want this night alone?
As they walk to their getaway, it appears they are still able to enjoy each other’s company and they make each other laugh, which is about all you can ask this deep into a relationship. But there are also some smoldering resentments that begin to bubble to the surface. When Celine looks at Jesse and asks him point blank if he would talk to her on that train if it was today and she looked like she does now, he hesitates. The two eventually laugh it off, but the tension is real. Star-crossed love has been replaced with adult commitments and hang-ups.
Growing old is hard, growing up even tougher, even when you have someone you truly love by your side. Someone with whom you’ve shared so much, conversations can lead to wild swings from euphoric remembrances of the best of times to a swollen irritation at present struggles.
The only hurdles I have with their interactions come with the climactic argument in the hotel. Some of it feels a little too written and choreographed and the truth seems a little out of reach, the Hawke and Delpy do a fantastic job at making us see and believe each of their persectives. Also, it is a little hard to accept that the extremely hurtful thing Celine tells Jesse before storming out of the room can be resolved with a cute story. But, I suppose, there is no way for us to know if anything is resolved. Much like the first two episodes in the “Before…” trilogy things are not wrapped up neatly. And here it all feels less hopeful, regardless of what is to come next.
Jesse and Celine talk and talk. And we listen. Wherever they may be in 9 more years, I’d be ready to listen some more.
© 2013 by Blake Crane