Thursday, June 27, 2013

Before Midnight

BEFORE MIDNIGHT: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, directed by Richard Linklater (108 min.)

When we first met Jesse and Celine back in 1994 they were two idealistic dreamers, twentysomethings in search of their path in life and sharing a passionate night together in Vienna.  Ten years later, we meet them again as they find each other by chance in Paris and share another day.  Both have found what they think to be happiness, Jesse as a writer, husband, and father, and Celine as a hard-working career woman.  Jesse decides to skip his flight back to the States at the end of our last visit, and his decisions sets the story of our third encounter with these people in motion.  Before Midnight brings us Jesse and Celine once again, only this time things are different.  This time, the years in between this and the second picture, Before Sunset, were not spent apart.  It changes the dynamic considerably and creates a richer, more emotionally engaging film.  Before Midnight is the best of the trilogy, the best film of the year, and it flirts with perfection more than any film has in a long while.

As I mentioned, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) have spent the last decade building a life together in Europe.  This alters the musical notes of the dialogue and the tone of the picture.  No longer are these star-gazing dreamers and passionate lovers.  They have work in the way, they have twin girls, they have stresses and life and history which strips away romanticism to an extent.  Now their discussions deal with smaller issues as the grander, more profound opinions on religion and the world were covered by the younger versions of these people.  It is time to discuss real life, to discuss Celine changing jobs or Jesse wanting to move back to the States to be closer to his teenage son.  Age is showing in Jesse's face, Celine's body has changed since her taxing birth of the twins.

The film moves rythmically, reminding me of a symphony told in four distinct movements.  Taking place the final day of an extended holiday in Greece, the first movement begins after Jesse drops off his son, Hank, at the airport to head back to his mother in Chicago.  This first movement is a single shot, single take discussion in a car ride which lasts twenty minutes but never once feels slow.  You feel as if you are eavesdropping on a very real, unfiltered conversation between familiar friends.  The second movement is a beautifully shot dinner scene with Jesse, Celine, and their writer friends they have been staying with in Greece.  Here we get rich and thoughtful conversations on love, sex, life, death, and the values of companionship.  The dialogue feels not like dialogue, but real conversations among real people.  I would almost expect to hear an entirely new discussion when I revisit the picture and sit back down at this dinner table.

The third and fourth movement is exclusively Jesse and Celine.  First is a long walk through the Grecian village on their way to a hotel, where they discuss their past and what brought them to this place.  While everything feels safe between the two, the small details of the day's conversations creep through with each and every line.  The fourth movement puts us in the hotel room with the couple, where a simple throwaway criticism builds and builds into a fight.  And that is the way things go, as any small statement transforms into an argument where the real issues come to pass.  The only question, then, is whether or not the love these two people share can push them through.

I am in awe of these films, and Before Midnight in particular.  The lack of romanticism creates another challenge for these characters we know so well, and adds a layer of intrigue.  Ethan Hawke has never been better, but Julie Delpy turns in the strongest female performance of the year.  She has stripped away all vanity here, and is a woman in transition between youth and middle age.  Her performance is raw and real, and her chemistry with Hawke is transcendent.  And of course, none of this would be possible without the eye and ear of Richard Linklater behind the camera.  These three talented artists have created a beautiful trilogy about life and love, and they have come together to give us the most touching of all three in Before Midnight.