31 July 2013


This review will contain spoilers for Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, (naturally) but shouldn't contain any major spoilers for Before Midnight.

Do you ever feel like indie romances have lost their grasp on believable relationships? Hell, most mumblecore films don't even have a pair of three-dimensional characters to rub together. Happily, another nine years on from Before Sunrise, and its sequel Before Sunset, the trio of director Richard Linklater and stars/co-writers Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy have lost none of the mastery displayed in Jesse and Celine.

Before Midnight picks up with the pair living in France. After the tantalising open ending of Sunset, Jesse resolved to leave his wife and son in order to be with Celine, a decision that has repercussions throughout this third instalment. Now in their 40s, Jesse and Celine have twin daughters of their own, and they're spending the summer on holiday in Greece. Jesse has just put his now-teenaged son, Hank, on a plane back to his mother in America, and once he and Celine have some time alone, they take stock of how their lives have changed.

This series of films is a marvel, and there's no sense in burying the lede- Before Midnight is a fantastic continuation from the first two films. The only other series like it, in terms of how difficult it is to pick a favourite, is Toy Story. Perhaps it's because, like Pixar, Linklater et al aren't building a franchise. This is going to be about as exciting to your more discerning cineaste as a new Marvel Studios film is to the blockbuster crowd, but the unassuming tone of the first two instalments remains intact. They haven't broke the bank, brought in any big new stars or even excessively marketed the film. We're just dropping in on this couple again, not because that's a franchise formula, but because it would feel false otherwise.

By now, Hawke and Delpy just inhabit these roles. Their performances have always been quite naturalistic, and experience hasn't dulled the effect of their portrayal. As before, their work here shows the advantage of having actors involved in the creation of the script, as opposed to the altogether more shaky tendency of having actors improvise from story beats. The latter has become the vogue in all sorts of movies these days, but the Before way worked in 1995, it worked in 2004, and it works especially well now.

As ever, the appeal comes from the conversations between the two leads, which shouldn't really work in a crucially visual medium like film. If two people talking would come off as purely theatrical, the series' signature tracking shots remain just as powerful in engaging the audience, walking us along with them. Granted, we're a little in front of them, and we're walking backwards, but even three films in, it's surprisingly engrossing. That unassuming wit works nicely too- the dialogue is funny when it's supposed to be, but doesn't allow pause for laughter. If you've seen the first two, you already know what I mean here.

But in Midnight, there's also the added bonus that we're shown how they haven't had chance to just hang out and shoot the shit since they had kids. They're not the young romantics who met in Vienna, back in Sunrise. Some may complain that their twins aren't hugely present in the film, (I don't think they're even named) but that's the entire point- we're now dropping in on them at a time in their lives where we're unlikely to find them alone. There are other couples-- some older than Jesse and Celine, and some much younger-- introduced into the mix early on, and even though Celine despairs of that conversation later on, their interaction works, and never comes off as enclosed or pretentious.

Even though the new characters are generally pretty well integrated, it's still mostly down to our main couple, over the course of a few hours, leading up to the titular time of day. Once they're on their own though, they're not just shooting the shit, but dragging shit up. Jesse can't help but notice that his son gets along better with Celine, when he feels Hank abandoned him for her, while Celine isn't prepared to put her own plans on hold for Jesse for much longer. Aside from filling in the gap since we last caught up with them, it really gives the sense that they deliberately haven't been talking about this stuff. Now that they're older, they eventually have to fight it out. The film never devolves into a series of arguments, but by this point, you can feel for both characters and fully sympathise with both of their perspectives- again, it's just engrossing.

Before Midnight is beautifully written and acted, and it cements the feeling of the previous film; that we can drop in on these characters some time after we last saw them, and find they have moved on with their lives, and still know them better than most movie characters. Upon reaching trilogy status, it also serves as the perfect antidote to blockbuster fatigue- Jesse and Celine don't have to fight a single alien, but their own problems and personalities feel earth-shaking while you're embroiled in them. In nine years' time, I could be saying this same thing at the end of my review of a fourth instalment, but it bears saying anyway- I can't wait until the next time we drop in on them.

Before Midnight is still showing in selected cinemas nationwide, and will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on October 28th.
If you've seen Before Midnight, why not share your comments below? Here's looking forward to 2022!

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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