by Bill Wine
Each week, veteran film critic Bill Wine will look back at an important film that is worth watching, either for the first time or again.
“Before Midnight,” the third of the “Before” movies, arrives after.
After its two predecessors, that is: “Before Sunrise” (1995) and “Before Sunset” (2004).
This second sequel is the third collaboration among director/co-writer Richard Linklater and stars/co-writers Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.
Like the first two offerings, it’s a talky, walk-y romantic drama (or dramedy, perhaps), enormously charming without ever seeming to try to be, and it’s the strongest of the three entries in a modest “franchise” that started solidly and has improved with each outing.
In the first, the two focal characters were strangers flirting in Vienna. In the second, having gone their separate ways, they reunited in Paris.
In “Before Midnight” — set 18 years after “Before Sunrise”and nine years after “Before Sunset”–Jesse (Hawke) and Celine (Delpy), approaching middle age and not actually married, have been summer-vacationing on the Greek island of Crete with their twin daughters and his teenage son.
Whereas the first two installments in the trilogy – if indeed it remains a trilogy – were about romantic connection and regret, the threequel is about romantic sustenance in a committed relationship.
Divorced Jesse, it turns out, did leave his wife for Celine. They are living in Paris, but novelist Jesse wishes to relocate back to the States, while Celine would prefer to stay in France and accept the government job she’s been offered.
So there is considerable tension in the negotiations within their relationship.
As before, the lead roles are impressively and persuasively lived-in and the dialogue is as genuine as movie dialogue gets. Thus the Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. But the intensity and intimacy are bumped up a notch or two this trip, especially in the film’s bristling third act, an extended sequence in which Jesse and Celine head out on their own for what is intended to be a romantic evening at a nearby hotel on their last night in Greece.
As they say, the best laid plans…
That’s when accusations and recriminations surface and emotions spin out of control in a way, because we know these characters so well by now, that seems both perfectly natural and naturally devastating. It is a fitting and gripping and moving climax not only to the film but to the trilogy.
Rarely has a screenplay explored and displayed the love and hate dimensions in a couple’s emotional relationship with the precision and power of the one depicted here. The rigorous emotional truth conjured and conveyed is truly remarkable.
This is by no means the only kind of movie that the versatile Linklater makes: consider “Dazed and Confused,” “Boyhood,” “Waking Life,” “The School of Rock,” “Fast Food Nation,” ‘Me and Orson Welles,” and “Bernie.” But here he employs long takes as the norm in a third daringly modest “Before”movie, confident that his leads can sufficiently hold the screen without unnecessary and distracting cinematic embellishment. It’s a form of staying out of their way, and Hawke and Delpy reward Linklater’s confidence with consummate skill.
“Before Midnight” is not larger than life. Instead, the wonderfully engrossing threepeat captures the essence of life far beyond the level of the vast majority of movies.
Will there be a fourth chapter nine years later? Who knows? But until then, just think of “Before Midnight”as having saved the best for last.
Bill Wine is an Emmy-winning film critic who served in that capacity for WTXF and KYW Newsradio. He lives in Chestnut Hill.