‘Must see’ movie : Before Midnight

The romantic optimism of people in their 20s, the regrets that begin to encroach in one’s 30s: these are part of life’s natural ebb and flow, and they’re captured with exquisite detail and notable flourish in Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004). These two films, made nine years apart, are touchstones of modern romantic cinema. Their intercontinental lovers, Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke), meet on a train in the first film and vow to reunite in six months. But in one’s 20s, time can seem boundless and assignations limitless, and Celine and Jesse’s night before sunrise slips into the past. Nine years later, Jesse, now a successful American novelist, visits France on a book tour, and Parisian Celine enables another long walk-and-talk, which leads back to her apartment and a reckoning before sunset. Jesse is now a father and unhappily married, Celine is still unsettled in her life and career. Can the loose ends of their 30s find romantic closure?

Before Midnight picks up the pair nine years further down love’s road. Celine and Jesse are an established couple, though not married, and are the parents of twin girls. Now in their early 40s and on summer vacation in Greece, their love is still palpable but so is the passage of time and the weight of life’s constant demands. They still playfully tease and taunt each other, and their sexual desire remains strong, yet each reads so very much into every spoken line and sideways glance. Love may not always be enough when slammed up against the exigencies of careers and parenting and deeply habituated responses. In the blink of an eye, joyous lovemaking can turn into bitter recriminations and leave both combatants and viewers not only wondering where the once-demonstrative love has suddenly gone but how it’s possible for so much roiling acrimony to lie dormant

This movie opens with Jesse about to put his son Hank (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) on a return flight to the States at the end of the summer long visit to Greece. Hank has to return to Chicago, where he lives with his mother, Jesse’s ex-wife, who harbours a lingering, powerful hate for Jesse and Celine. The distance and infrequent visits trouble Jesse, who sees his son’s childhood slipping away

Celine reads this as a sign that Jesse wants to pick up the family and move them from their home in Paris to Chicago, a threat to her individuality and career (she’s mulling over a government job offer). This is how the end begins, she announces, to Jesse’s annoyance and our lingering dread

This conversation takes place in a mostly unbroken shot lasting nearly 15 minutes as they drive from the airport back to the villa where they’re staying. It is by turns charming, funny, uncomfortable and a little scary. It’s just the two of them talking, but what they’re saying is so genuine, so real, you can’t turn away

They’re visiting the spectacular home of an elderly writer (Walter Lasally). Also at the house are a beautiful young couple (Yannis Papadopoulos and Ariane Labed) who serve as reminders of what Jesse and Celine used to be, and an artsy couple (Panos Koronis and Athina Rachel Tsangari) who evoke a life without so many responsibilities

The artsy couple has paid for a romantic evening for Jesse and Celine, just the two of them, at a hotel. As they walk down the hill through the fading light of a perfect Greek day (gorgeously handled by cinematographer Christos Voudouris), Jesse and Celine are sliding inexorably toward an epic and revelatory fight

And when it comes, he calls her crazy, she responds that he’s passive-aggressive. She rages about the career compromises that life forced on her, but not him; he flashes back that she forgets the things he does. It’s horribly real, and yet that’s deceptive. No couple’s all-out fight is ever this witty, this coherent, this impeccably timed, but Hawke and Delpy inhabit these people so deeply that the wordy dialogue seems as natural as something overheard from the next apartment

Getting old stinks. Growing up is worse. When Jesse and Celine think back on their meeting on the train, or their reconnecting in Paris, you can hear the yearning for lost youth in their voices. And we yearn, too. No longer carefree, they see the world more for what it is, and that can lead to struggles, for all of us

The labour of pairing off is a classic theme for a movie, with a comforting finish when love triumphs. But finding romance is easy. Staying together is hard. Linklater and his stars aren’t afraid to show us the ugly side of relationships, the petty annoyances, the harboured resentments. But Jesse and Celine also talk about the future, their future, in one scene, more humorously and directly than you might expect

Before Midnight surpasses the two previous films in this trilogy in terms of its intelligence, narrative design, and vivacity. It’s a grand accomplishment, and NMTBP feels greedy about wanting to see this film series continue. Romance is wasted and too often thrown away by the young. But as this film shows, romance can ripen with time. Once the swooning years are over and middle age and beyond set in, the real intricacies and beauty of the romantic pas de deux are finally revealed

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June 26, 2013

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