Review: Before Midnight

Richard Linklater’s third instalment in his series following the lives of Jesse and Celine is a deeply moving character study

beforemidnight Director: Richard Linklater
Starring: Ethan Hawke; Julie Delpy
Length: 109 Minutes
Rating: ★★★★★

The third film in Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy continues the story of Jesse (Hawke) and Celine (Delpy) as their relationship progresses nine years after Before Sunset, and like the other two films is a treat from the very start. Linklater is a talented filmmaker, and alongside what has been an epic twenty year project telling the story of these two characters he’s made films as diverse as School of Rock and A Scanner Darkly in a highly successful career, but he’s never forgotten them or his knack for writing intelligent, funny and touching dialogue that lights up the film in the same way that it lit up the other two in the series.

While the first two films followed the pair traversing first around Vienna and then around Paris, this one follows them on holiday in Greece, where they have had an extended summer holiday and met people with whom they discuss love, life and, for Jesse, novel ideas. Mature now, Jesse and Celine’s discussions are less romanticised and more practical. They discuss their children, their relationship and job opportunities when previously they mused on feminism, human nature and poetry, but every conversation has the same edge, the same creative and amusing tone that it always used to have. “How long has it been since we walked around just bullshitting?” Hawke’s character asks and gradually you realise that you’ve missed their casual chats and even their arguments, portrayed so intensely here, that were so enthralling before terribly.

Hawke and Delpy’s chemistry is fantastic, and the two’s input in to the script means that they can shape the dialogue to what they know about their characters. It’s serious and light-hearted, amusing and dark and captures the realism of a relationship fantastically, especially when both characters have the baggage they do from previous films. The opening sequence, featuring Jesse and his son from a previous relationship is very powerful and it’s a measure of how brilliantly acted it is that seemingly every day events have such an impact on the viewer. These films are a reminder of Hawke’s true potential, that isn’t quite realised by films like Sinister and Daybreakers, where the script he has to work with is nowhere near this quality.

With a laugh count that might beat the other two films put together, Before Midnight adds a lot to the trilogy in terms of sheer charm and its insights in to long-term relationships and the pros and cons of getting older, addressing themes that evolve from but are not the same as the themes from their past gallivants. It’s a very interesting character study, a touching romantic comedy and a window in to the lives of two people that you grow to care a lot for, with their differing views of the world and how things should be, and yet their wonderful chemistry and brilliant sense of one another. It’s arguably the best of a great bunch, and the way Linklater creates so many layers out of the very limited scenarios and settings is admirable. It’s great that there are still people who are prepared to make these daring, ingenious and atypical films and Linklater champions the cause with aplomb. A pleasure.

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