Monday, July 15, 2024

On Before Midnight

by Roberto Klemente R. Timonera

Before Midnight, the third—and hopefully final—installment in Richard Linklater’s acclaimed film series, takes on a much darker tone than its two predecessors. After all, this isn’t a film about youthful romanticism. There are no chance encounters with beautiful strangers here; what we have is a painful portrait of what love demands, when the euphoria has gone and certain matters have crept into the cracks of this decades-old relationship: children, personal ambitions, and past lives, among other things.
A bit of flashback: in Before Sunrise, Jesse (played by Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) are two twenty-somethings who meet on a train. They form an instant connection and spend the rest of the day walking around Vienna, talking about life and love with a dreaminess only the young are capable of. Jesse has a flight to catch the next morning, and they part ways.
Before Sunset takes place nine years later, this time in Paris; Jesse has written a successful novel based on that night in Vienna. He runs into Celine while holding a press conference for his book. They again walk through the city (Jesse still has a plane to catch) but this time they are more mature, jaded individuals who have had to give up on their notions of romantic love.
In these movies, where the plot is fairly simple, it is the characters that take center stage. They are fully real human beings who leave an indelible mark in our hearts. Though they come from two different cultures—Jesse is American while Celine is French—it is precisely these differences that make them so interesting to watch onscreen.
Before Midnight happens another nine years afterward. Jesse sends off his son Hank (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) at the airport so he can go back to his mother—Jesse’s ex-wife—in Chicago.
He then joins Celine in the family van outside. Though not married, the two now live together in Paris, blessed with beautiful twin girls and thriving careers. It’s the last day of their vacation in Greece. As they drive towards a sending-off dinner at their host’s house, Jesse expresses a desire to be a more consistent presence in his son’s life, which would entail relocating the family to Chicago. Celine, of course, is unwilling, as she has just been given a hefty job offer and she does not want their whole lives to change just so—in her words—they can babysit for Jesse’s ex-wife. This is the tension that persists throughout the movie, and it is evident even as they have dinner at their friend’s seaside home, walk around Greece, and spend the night in a hotel room as a parting gift.
It certainly helped that the film was made an actual nine years after Before Sunset. Aside from visibly aging, Hawke and Delpy have had plenty of time to really know their roles. Around each other they exude a familiarity unique to couples who have lived together for a long time.
The dialogue that was the driving force of the first two movies remains the singular charm of Before Midnight. And rightly so, as it was their engaging conversations that endeared Jesse and Celine to us in Before Sunrise. For the second and third installments, Hawke and Delpy co-wrote the screenplay with Linklater, making for a more intimate portrayal of the two characters. Here in Before Midnight, though, the conversation is laden less with philosophical musings than with practical concerns. Yet these arguments about family matters—to move to Chicago or not, how much time they have for themselves—aren’t all they’re fighting about. There lurks the more pressing question of whether the couple can stay together after all these years. As always, the lines are delivered with such effortlessness that at times we forget there is a script at all.
Midnight brings a satisfying close to the ‘Before’ trilogy. It isn’t always easy to watch—the tension can get especially intense in some scenes—yet it gives keen insight into the nature of long-term relationships, and a sense of wonder at how lovers, despite being separate people with separate lives that are not without their share of friction, manage to remain a single, beautiful entity.~


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