Sydney Film Festival – Before Midnight review

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By Simon Miraudo
June 9, 2013

Lightning just keeps on striking for Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke when it comes to their Before saga; so much so, I’m beginning to suspect them of performing shamanistic rituals in their backyard before embarking on each new instalment. They reunite for the third time in eighteen years to deliver Before Midnight, the follow up to 1995’s Before Sunrise and 2004’s Before Sunset. We check in on Hawke’s Jesse and Delpy’s Celine, now in their forties, to see if these soul-mates are finally with one another, or simply circling each other, in another eye-popping locale. I’m going to assume if you’re willing to read a review, you’re happy to learn at least the status of their relationship at the beginning of the movie. That is the only spoiler warning I’ll give. Should you turn away now, just know this: Before Midnight is as wondrous as sequels get; a warm and winning addition to a saga I’m now hoping continues in perpetuity.

Here’s the good news: they did it! American dreamer and acclaimed author Jesse stuck with feisty Frenchwoman Celine following the events of Sunset, abandoning his supposedly awful wife in the process (in contrast to Delpy, anyone would seem awful). Unmarried, yet gifted with two gorgeous twin girls and holidaying in the similarly-gorgeous Greece, at the film’s open, Jesse and Celine seem to have it all, their witty banter firing on all cylinders as they drive along the countryside. The day wears on, however, and issues that have been niggling them for years come to the fore.

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Jesse wishes he could live closer to his son, Hank (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick), in Chicago, while Celine is adamant about keeping their home in Paris. She wants to embark on a new job, and accuses Jesse of holding her back. At first, the accusations are playful, and seem to be akin to the kinds of small complaints oft-shared in a long-lasting relationship. For the first two acts, I mourned the lack of a ticking clock; in previous instalments, there’s always been the knowledge that by the feature’s end, our two lovers have to part ways, and the tension comes from wondering if they’ll follow through. This time, I assumed, that tension was gone. Not so. Once the pair are separated from their fellow holidaymakers and children, and isolated in an impersonal hotel room, their aggravations increase. Once again, we wonder, if Jesse and Celine will part ways when the clock strikes twelve. This time, maybe, for good.

I stress the drama of this instalment to highlight how unique it is to this threequel. We’ve spent plenty of time with Jesse and Celine as they philosophise about their world, their time, and so on, but never before have they discussed in such great details their world together and their time together. Fans of the series’ earlier ambiguity may be disappointed. I, for one, was ecstatically pleased Linklater and his co-writers/performers Hawke and Delpy were using their talents and natural way with words to paint a portrait that hits even closer to home. Sunrise and Sunset are hopelessly romantic; the romance in Midnight is suffocating under reality. It’s a real pleasure, then, as Jesse and Celine struggle out from under that weight and reignite the romance even after a decade together; their familiarity with one another’s peccadilloes far greater than when they’d only spent a collective 24 hours in each other’s company.

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And that brings us to this flick’s real magic. The chemistry between these two actors is unequalled. They’re never funnier than when they’re together. They’re never more lovable. They’re never more watchable. Before Midnight is a series of long takes in which Jesse and Celine wax lyrical. They might be rehearsed to a tee, or perhaps improvised and slightly changed each time. Either way, they feel more natural than almost any other conversation I’ve seen put to screen. Before Midnight may test the patience of those who require a little more plot to chew on. I suspect, though, even the most intolerant of viewers will be eventually charmed by its stars, and these characters, as they amble along the cobbled streets of Greece’s southern Peloponnese, reminiscing about the life they’ve lived and debating fiercely about the life they’re going to lead. The older I get, the realer it feels. I want to keep growing old with Jesse and Celine.

5/5

Check out Simon Miraudo’s other reviews here.

Before Midnight played the Sydney Film Festival. It opens in Australian cinemas July 18, 2013.

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