The third in cinema’s most romantic trilogy, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy reprise their roles as Jesse and Celine, an American man and a French woman at the heart of Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy. Meeting on a train in Before Sunrise (1995) and reuniting in their thirties in Before Sunset (2004). Before Midnight (2013) catches up with the couple seeking a night of passion, but the date turns to drama as they come to assess the past, present and future of their relationship.
Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine are now forty-somethings living in Paris with twin girls of their own. He is the prestigious writer of two autobiographical novels about his relationship with Celine. Celine is an environmental activist, anguished at the system and is contemplating taking a job that she doesn’t really want with the government. The film follows the characters as they come to the end of their holiday at a picturesque writer's retreat in Greece. Their host is Patrick, an expat writer and mentor for Jesse (played by cinematographer Walter Lassallyy). His table is filled with scrumptious fresh food, fine wine and fun friends who engage in gripping cerebral and salacious conversation. As one comes to expect from the series, the camera follows the couple as they wander aimlessly through the countryside and weave between ancient ruins, discussing their careers and the complexities of life.
Jesse has a teenage son, Hank (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) from his first marriage who visits for the summer holidays. Every time they say goodbye, Jesse is wracked with paternal guilt that disturbs his otherwise blissful life. One evening, the couple plan a child-free night of romance culminating at a hotel but when Jesse mentions relocation, Celine raises concerns of her own that shake the foundations of their seemingly harmonious unity. Following in the tradition of its predecessors, Before Midnight is heavy on dialogue. The screenplay, (co-written by Linklater, Hawke and Delpy) remains tightly focused on the development of the characters, their feelings and thoughts. Much like the films of Eric Rohmer, the characters speak intelligently and with a sense of immediacy, constantly painting a picture of themselves and their current position as opposed to laying slabs for a contrived plot. A scene in the car, filmed in one continuous take shows Jesse and Celine chatting. There is no drama but their conversation, as insular as it may be, is thoroughly compelling as it’s all relatable and holds a mirror to anyone who’s been in a long relationship.
The focus of Linklater’s camera is always on his characters, yet he envelops them with serene landscapes and scorching sunshine that emanate warmth, ensuring that even in the most fractious scenes, the viewer feels the heat. The beauty in the film is not only in the location but in its audacious simplicity. The narrative flows like a welcome breeze with scenes emerging organically and at an efflorescent pace. Before Midnight is quietly melancholic in its study and invites the audience to question whether true love, lust and romance can exist beyond the romantic expectations studied in the previous two films. It’s an absolute pleasure to witness Hawke and Delpy in their familiar roles, both have undeniable chemistry as talented actors and erudite writers. Director Richard Linklater, returns to form, delivering a sweet and subtle film, rich in substance and with a (not so) perfect couple at the heart.