Mark Reviews Movies

Before Midnight (2013)


4 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Richard Linklater

Cast: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, Panos Koronis, Athina Rachel Tsangari, Ariane Labed, Yiannis Papadopoulos, Walter Lassally, Xenia Kalogeropoulou

MPAA Rating: R (for sexual content/nudity and language)

Running Time: 1:48

Release Date: 5/24/13 (limited); 5/31/13 (wider); 6/14/13 (wide)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | May 31, 2013

After he walks out of the airport, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) walks toward a car, and standing there, leaning against the passenger door, is a blonde woman. The camera follows him, and our view of the woman gets clearer. When the confirmation of the suspicion that this is no random woman standing by the car arrives, I smiled. It was a smile I could not have repressed even if I wanted to. For there is Celine (Julie Delpy), and she is waiting for Jesse.

For those of us who know and love these characters, this moment in Before Midnight is the payoff to a nine-year wait. When we last saw Jesse and Celine in Before Sunset, they were in her Paris apartment. She was serenading him with a song on her guitar; he was delaying a trip to the airport, from whence he would board a flight and return to New York to a marriage that was on the rocks. Even further back, the sight of Jesse walking toward an expectant Celine answers a scenario posed back in 1995 with Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise, one of the great modern love stories, when the two met on a train outside of Vienna and decided to spend the twilight, nighttime, and early morning hours walking and talking through the city before each had to go their separate ways.

They promised to meet in Vienna a year later. The meeting did not happen.

Nine years later (in both real and cinematic time) with Before Sunset, Linklater posed the question if love can survive after a long period of absence. The answer, with that ambiguous ending of Jesse sitting in Celine's apartment as his flight's departure time draws nearer and nearer, is presented here. Now Linklater, Delpy, and Hawke's screenplay asks an even more probing question: Can love survive an extended period of presence?

Whereas the two previous films indulged in romantic idealism to dreamy effect, this third entry is pragmatic and maybe even a little cynical. Jesse and Celine's romance until now has been the stuff of impractical fiction—a fact that the trio of screenwriters addressed in the second film through Jesse's fictional account of his first and, at the time, only encounter with Celine in a novel he had written in part with the hope that she would somehow be able to find him again.

At the time in their relationship when he admits this subconscious (but not really) desire on his part to her, there's something lovely about the confession, and it's in the characters' almost complete honesty with each other. What's striking about this sequel is the way it offers an evolving perspective on this relationship. Yes, their honesty in the two films before it is sweet, but it's also a little naïve. At one point in one of the many conversations that make up the film, Celine points out that everyone who has read Jesse's books believes they have had a fairy-tale romance. That belief, she tells a captivated audience of people who are looking for a confirmation of that notion, couldn't be further from the truth.

Here, these two are not as honest; they choose their words more carefully. They skirt important issues, omit details of their lives, and otherwise try to avoid conflict. If they're less honest with each other, the film is, in turn, more honest about them. This is a relationship that seems closer to an end than a beginning, and we are just becoming acclimated to the idea that they have a stable relationship—unhindered by distance or deadlines.

The seed of their discontent is planted before we even see Jesse and Celine together. The film's first scene shows Jesse with his son Hank (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) at the airport. Jesse's teenage son is about to leave for home in Chicago with his mother after another summer in Europe—Greece this year—with his father, and the obvious emotional distance between the two has taken its toll on Jesse. In a tableau that silently establishes the film's tone and the story's inciting incident, the father watches his son go through the security checkpoint, waiting for the boy to turn around and give him some sign that Hank is aware of his existence. It never comes.

That's when we see Celine. The two have twin daughters and will be leaving Greece to return home to Paris. Before that, though, the couple, sans children, will spend a night in a hotel room—a gift from new friends (Panos Koronis and Athina Rachel Tsangari) they've met on their trip.

Before that excursion, they talk on the drive back from the airport, and we immediately understand how much they've changed. Jesse drops the hint that he's considering moving to Chicago. "This isn't working," he tells Celine. How much of his life is he referring to with the statement? Celine, meanwhile, is considering giving up her dream job of working for an environmentalist non-profit organization to take a government position; the dream isn't working out the way she believed it would. With these two seemingly innocent revelations, the tension between them escalates immediately.

It continues with another conversation in which they are less active participants. Gathered around the dinner table at the villa where they've spent the summer, Jesse and Celine listen to others discuss love (What else would they talk about?). The topic veers from how much easier long-distance relationships have become with technology (a fact the two resent) to how all romantic entanglements are more or less doomed. Two young lovers (Ariane Labed and Yiannis Papadopoulous) who only spend the summer together at the villa appear as perfectly happy and in love as Jesse and Celine did at one point; they are both indifferent when she mentions their relationship will eventually end. The husband of another woman (Xenia Kalogeropoulou), the "friend" of the villa's owner (Walter Lassally), died some years ago; she has started to forget him.

When Jesse and Celine are on their own, whatever air they may have walked on together in the past has completely disappeared from beneath them. The walk to the hotel, where foreplay imperceptibly shifts into an argument, recalls the way they once talked and laughed, but it's no longer easy. There's something forced in the way Celine tries to think of a story she has yet to reveal to Jesse and in how he attempts to lighten the mood. It feels formal and phony, like they're clinging to any shred of the past—like the way Celine repeatedly points out that sun is "still there" as they watch it set over a hill.

The last scene of Before Midnight, after all their cards have been placed on the table, is a similar subversion of the couple's past romanticism. If all is as it once was on the surface, we—and, we can only assume, they—have grown much wiser.

Copyright © 2013 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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