Cinema review: Before Midnight

By David Keane

Before Midnight is now showing at Cornerhouse in Manchester.

Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy tells the story of Jesse and Celine, who seize upon a chance meeting on a train and end up spending one magical night together in Vienna.

The first film, Before Sunrise, ends with us unsure whether the pair will ever see each other again.

Before Sunset picks up nine years later, when the pair are reunited in Paris on the last stop of one of Jesse’s book tours – promoting a book inspired by that very train encounter in which he met Celine.

Again, the film follows the pair during a few fateful and painful hours together before Jesse catches a plane back home to America – and to his wife and young son. And yet again, the film leaves us unsure whether Jesse will get the plane or stay and be with Celine.

Nine more years have passed when Before Midnight begins.

Jesse and Celine have been together ever since, have settled down in Paris, had twins and are enjoying life together, with seemingly only one little problem: the son from Jesse’s first marriage is stuck over in Chicago with his now bitter mother.

Inevitably, being so far away from his son takes its toll on Jesse.

The film opens with Jesse saying goodbye to his son after the whole family enjoying a holiday in Greece with a writer-friend/mentor of Jesse’s in his beautiful villa, and after a painful goodbye at the airport we get to watch the final night at the villa before the rest of the family head back to France.

Despite the pair being treated to an evening alone together in a quaint hotel while the twins are looked after elsewhere, instead of a romantic evening the weight of having his son so far away and the magnitude of the decision to move to Paris to stay with Celine come bubbling to the surface.

Jesse’s not the only one with doubts. Celine too longs for something more; a ‘dream’ job has just made itself available to her and yet Jesse’s talk of Chicago seems to cast doubt upon it.

It soon emerges that despite their fairy-tale coming true, the couple battle the same uncertainty and problems that cast their shadow upon most people’s lives, for better or worse.

Before Midnight takes those moments where you may have wondered ‘what if?’, and plays out those fairy-tale dreams as reality, bringing with it all the sadness, complexity and monotony of an everyday, humdrum existence, illustrating that every path we take will face the same trials of life.

Yet again, Linklater treats us to conversations that are epic in scope, ranging from true love to trash literature, from real life to an even more real death.

But as the film progresses, Jesse and Celine’s playful musings become heated conversations, which in turn become arguments embittered by years of everyday life. Most interestingly, the audience watches the subject matter continually narrow in scope, until the pair as passionately argue about the washing up as they did earlier about how they met.

The dialogue, making us laugh while we still have tears in our eyes, is so evocative and engaging it almost transcends its place as a film script.

It is even more magical to watch Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy return to those characters that they clearly know and love so well and breathe so much life into them – all the more underlined by the fact they again share screenwriting credits.

The notion of creating two characters, placing them together by coincidence and revisiting their relationship every nine years was always going to be an interesting one for the medium of cinema. But the way in which Linklater uses it in Before Midnight to show the pain and sadness that couples face striving to make a ‘life’ work together goes far beyond the realms of film and cannot fail to hit home for everyone who ever had a relationship.

Reminiscent of John Paul Sartre’s The Age of Reason in the way it picks its way through the connections and relationships people build, it boldly dissects our each and every thought, reason or fear yet, unlike Sartre, displays them without judgement so that we can make of them what we will.

Two decades worth of disappointments and sacrifices hang like a weight upon the audience, and despite not having filmed one second or scene of the last nine years, Linklater has managed to create a depth to the characters that has rarely, if ever, been captured on film outside of the documentary.

Are we to expect more from Jesse and Celine? As with the other films in the trilogy, their lives continue beyond the credits so there’s no reason to say we won’t be enjoying another instalment nine years from now.

Before Midnight depicts life as it is and thus at its best, and in so doing creates cinema at its best.

Before Midnight is now showing at Cornerhouse in Manchester, visit here for more information.

Image courtesy of Sony Picture Classics via YouTube, with thanks.

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