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Before Midnight

June 29, 2013

Before Midnight (2013)
Director: Richard Linklater
Actors: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Walter Lassally

Before Midnight

Synopsis: Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy) are now a committed couple – parents to young twin girls and holidaying in an idyllic Greek resort. Jesse’s dislocation from his teenage son, coupled with Céline’s career frustrations, give the couple plenty to debate and squabble over.

Review: I have eulogised the merits of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise/Sunset diptych, so the promise of another instalment – charting Jesse and Celine in their forties – had my expectations at an all-time high, like the fanboys salivating over the next superhero adaptation. To say the end-result has left me disappointed isn’t to completely damn Before Midnight as it still trumps at least 95% of what passes through our cinemas these days, and it features some flashes of the magic that lit up the first two episodes of the saga.

The crucial thing Linklater, and, more saliently, Julie Delpy too, as actor-writer and co-author, get wrong is in trying almost too hard and pre-determinedly to create a supposedly bathetic and neurotic fortysomething counterpoint to the “what if”, optimistic musings of the previous two instalments. Of course, it’s only right to see how the reality of finally living in the relationship has manifested itself after the whimsy and yearning of those previous two films, but it almost seems to be refuting the special bond that Jesse and Céline cultivated (and would, to an extent, carry into the relationship), having had a very profound, longed-for second chance in Paris. Céline says certain nasty things to Jesse that are almost unforgivable in my eyes – about his writing and bedroom talents – that seem shoehorned in from far more caustic and soapy relationship dramas. Though it’s understandable she would feel threatened by Jesse’s elegiac bond to his son, especially when struggling through the quagmire of her stressful life and present professional disappointments, she would naturally extend Jesse much more empathy and love (as per the spirit of the first two films) than she does here.

Linklater ogles on this “snapshot of an unhappy marriage” theme by overdosing on references to Roberto Rossellini’s Journey to Italy. Incidentally, that was a film that Delpy also riffed on in her overrated Two Days in Paris. Before Midnight is best when it trusts its more transcendent, elegiac tone – as in the great opening scene of Jesse and his son saying goodbye at a Greek airport, and the wonderful monologue from an elderly lady at the ‘last supper’ Jesse and Céline’s friends prepare for them at their Greek retreat. (June 2013)

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