We meet Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) in Greece, nine years after their last rendezvous, in Before Sunset. Almost two decades have passed since their first encounter on a train bound for Vienna in Before Sunrise, and we now find them in their early forties - with young twin daughters, and Jesse with a 14 year old son from a broken marriage.
Review by Louise Keller:
Life, sex, love and the whole damn thing is the topic of conversation in Richard Linklater's third film in which the characters that Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke embodied so beautifully in Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004) continue their relationship. The beauty of this film - like the two before - is its natural flow of conversation and ability to engage and transport us into the moment. The issues, dreams and fears raised are ones to which we can all relate and the fact that we care about the characters clinches the deal. It's all at once funny, charming and real as Jesse (Hawke) and Celine (Delpy) struggle with the challenges of everyday life, while trying to retain the essence of the magic captured in their earlier experiences together.
The format is simple - the action takes place in the form of a conversation that simply evolves. Although the dialogue is scripted (by Delpy, Hawke and Linklater), it flows as though it is improvised and deals with the kinds of topics you would expect. There are few sharp edits and the sequences are extended, often in locked off shots, preserving the intimacy between the two characters.
After a brief airport sequence in which Jesse farewells his 13 year old son who is returning from Greece to his home in Chicago, the film starts in earnest with a conversation in the front seat of the car. The tussled long blond heads of Jesse and Celine's 12 year old twins are in dreamland in the backseat, while the adults talk about Celine's new job opportunity, a half eaten apple, Jesse's absent father syndrome, a cat named Cleopatra and the guilt they feel about driving by the ancient ruins without stopping. At their idyllic, rustic holiday destination staying with a writer and his family, there are passionate discussions over dolmades and stuffed capsicums, where the topics include virtual sex, masculine and feminine competition, romantic love, friendship and happiness.
The element of time that is encapsulated in the titles of the three films is the springboard from which they soar. Sunrise is the fresh beginning, Sunset is the happily every after and Midnight is the turning point at which the future is uncertain. The overnight stay in a waterside hotel in the Penepolese Islands is intended to inject a shot of romance but a single phone call changes an erotic moment into an escalating quarrel in which the future becomes uncertain and jealousies of the past are thrust into the whirlpool of the present. The voracity of the unraveling of civility and escalation of sensitive moments is fuel for robust and often too-close-for-comfort moments. The improbable and impossible notion of time travel is cleverly incorporated as an idea that offers romance, fantasy and magic the opportunity to ignite their flame. Let's hope the conversation never ends.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
If you can fake sincerity you've got it made, politicians are told, but it's the golden rule of acting. This tightly knit team of filmmakers Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, have been faking sincerity together over two decades for these unique films (Before Sunrise in 1995, Before Sunset in 2004), in which the two central characters are strangers first, then lovers and now partners. It's a unique franchise in cinema, in which real time and real life are the cinematic tools, but bent to the purpose of exploring the human condition in tight close up on two specimens of it. True, they are white and middle class, so you'd think not universally representative. But I maintain that their combined observational powers are such as to make this trilogy universally relevant - even in cultures where men and women do not share equal life billing.
In this third (and probably not final) chapter, there are only about four scenes, two of them shot in single takes. Each scene is filled with dialogue - or rather, conversation - between Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke), and in two, there are other characters. But the focus never leaves the relationship. All three have been quoted saying how hard this process is and how demanding. It looks so natural, so flowing, so impromptu - yet nothing is improvised.
The film is batteringly brutal emotionally, and that's what they refer to when contemplating a fourth chapter. It is at times mean spirited and destructive as the couple set off on conflicts that escalate and grow in intensity as well as invective. Most people will find at least passing references to their own lives and relationships, which might make for considerable discomfort. But the filmmakers would no doubt argue that there's no gain without pain - and they refer to both themselves and to their audiences.
For fans of this series, Before Midnight is like an old friend who has grown sharper and grumpier and saltier with life; and for students of cinema, the film is a masterclass in the use of the language and tools of this amazing artform to portray human nature. And it's all done without a score, as if we really were just flies on the wall (or flies buzzing in the Greek summer air).
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BEFORE MIDNIGHT (MA15+)
CAST: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, Jennifer Prior, Charlotte Prior, Xenia Kalogeropoulo, Walter Lassally, Ariana Labed, Yiannis Popodopoulos, Athina Rachel Tsangari
PRODUCER: Richard Linklater, Sarah Woodhatch, Christos V. Konstantakopoulos
DIRECTOR: Richard Linklater
SCRIPT: Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Christos Voudouris
EDITOR: Sandra Adair
MUSIC: Graham Reynolds
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Anna Georgiadou
RUNNING TIME: 108 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hopscotch
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 18, 2013
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