Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Before Midnight

Grade: 97/A

Has there ever been a trilogy as consistently fantastic as Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy? Certainly others had equal high-points (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of the Dollars trilogy), but Linklater, along with original co-writer Kim Krizan and stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, has created one of the most credible and beloved relationships in cinema history. In a way, it’s a combination of Linklater’s much-noted influence Eric Rohmer (talkative young people philosophize, fall in love) and Francois Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel series, chartering the life of a person (or, in this case, relationship) and how it changes over time.

The third exquisite entry in the series, Before Midnight, follows the now 41-year-old Jesse (Hawke) and Celine (Delpy), who over the course of the past 9 years have gone from onetime lovers to partners with twin daughters. Now on vacation in Greece, their friends have planned a romantic night for the two before they return to Paris. But while the two remain as talkative and intelligent as ever, their relationship has grown more complicated over the years as they argue about Celine’s job, Jesse’s distance from his son and spiteful ex-wife, and whether true love is just a fairytale.

As with Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, the camera follows two beautiful people walking around a beautiful location (the Peloponnese peninsula this time around), gabbing all night, and finding some truths about themselves and what they want out of life. It’s perhaps simple, but few directors outside of Linklater and Abbas Kiarostami (whose Certified Copy shares much in common with the Before films) could pull it off so well. The fact that Linklater and company wait nine years for every installment is essential as well: rather than seeming rote, the two actors (both terrific as ever in their defining roles) have grown and aged with the characters, giving their talks and arguments new perspective.

If Before Sunrise was about the overwhelming passion that comes with young love and Before Sunset (still my favorite of the bunch) was about the mixture of pain and nostalgia that comes with rekindling an old romance, Before Midnight is about the difficulty of keeping a relationship alive. Jesse has gone from the more cynical of the two to the more sentimental one, where Celine has balanced her romanticism with a weary practicality. They quibble over minor disagreements and poor choices of words, and they show clear discomfort as their friends question whether old ideas of love are relevant anymore in the 21st century. In the film’s greatest sequence, have a long, heated, relationship testing argument that’ll damn near tear the hearts out of anyone who loved the previous two films. It’s absolutely brutal in its truthfulness. But Linklater and company are careful to balance out the harder material with a sweetness that keeps the tone from curdling, and the film is ultimately hopeful. True love, while not as perfect as most movies would make it out to be, may have a chance after all.

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