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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 Celine (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 Celine’s career/feminist frustrations, still 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’) gets wrong is in trying almost too hard and pre-determinedly to create a supposedly realistic and neurotic “forty-something” counterpoint to the ‘what if’ younger 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 the previous two films, but it almost seems to be refuting the special bond that Jesse and Celine cultivated (and would to an extent carry into the relationship), having had a very profound, longed-for second chance in Paris. Celine says certain nasty things to Jesse that are almost unforgivable in my eyes – about his writing and bedroom talents – that seem shoe-horned in from far more caustic, soapy relationship dramas. Though it’s understandable she would feel threatened by Jesse’s elegiac bond to his son, amid the quagmire of her stressy life and present professional disappointments, she’d clearly 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. The film 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 Celine’s friends prepare for them at their Greek retreat. (June 2013)

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