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Monday, December 2, 2013

Before Midnight

I will get to Mandela soon, but first, the real gem of the week.

This review is also up at Channel 24.

What it's about

Picking up nine years since we last saw them in Before Sunset, Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) are married with children and holidaying in Greece, but for all the seeming idyllic comforts of their life, are they truly happy?

What we thought

It says something about how painfully and beautifully realistic these films are that Before Midnight is by far my least favourite of Richard Linklater's “Before” trilogy, which encompasses Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and now, Before Midnight, each set nine years apart, both in real time and in the fictional world that they inhabit.

Like its two predecessors, Before Midnight is a master class in writing, direction and acting that mixes fascinating, hyper-real but believable dialogue with strong characterization and some of the longest single takes in modern cinema. It features beautiful, picturesque locales, great dashes of humour and enough talking to make Quintin Tarantino look like Buster Keaton. It is not, in short, a film for those who like a lot of action or even a lot of plot, but is made purely for patient film lovers who appreciate emotional, character-driven stories, sparkling dialogue and some truly spectacular filmmaking.

Linklater is an incredible, jaw-droppingly versatile director whose works include everything from the kid-friendly comedy of School of Rock to the most Dickian of all Philip K Dick films in A Scanner Darkly to the uncompromising slice of life of Waking Life and his Before trilogy. Here again he proves himself to be the king of the indie circuit as he both allows long scenes to play out with minimal editing and for the complexity of human emotion to be unleavened by typical Hollywood sentimentality.

Matching Linklater beat for beat though, are Delpy and Hawke who, between them, not only appear in every frame as the film's two leads but are co-writers and co-producers, along with Linklater. Their unshowy roles have somehow become so iconic that no matter how good they are in other roles, I always think of them as Celine and Jesse respectively. They have come to inhabit these roles so entirely, in fact, that the idea of them not being co-writers and producers on the film is utterly unimaginable.

With all this authenticity then, comes my main “problems” with the film. First, though Jesse might occasionally be a dick, even at his worst he always comes across as more balanced and reasonable than the often difficult-to-take Celine. This isn't, to be clear, a sexist thing on the part of the filmmakers (or on my part as a reviewer, for that matter) as her uncompromising hard-headedness s always portrayed as being a flaw in Celine, not in women in general. For that matter though this does hurt the enjoyability of the film slightly, the fact that the filmmakers – including Delpy herself – are so willing to rob their central character of basic likeability says a lot about how little the film is willing to pull its punches.

My other main “problem” - and once again, this is more of a problem that I have in relating to the film than an actual flaw in the largely flaw-free film – is that I had far more trouble relating to these characters than I did the last couple of times. The reason, of course, is simple: when I saw the previous films for the first time, I was aged somewhere between the characters in Sunset and Sunrise so I had little problem understanding and sympathizing with them, even if my actual life circumstances were hardly identical to theirs.

With Midnight, however, I am both a number of years younger than them and have never been in a decade-long romantic relationship so I felt somewhat more removed this time. More than that, while the previous two films were about two characters coming together – be it permanently or not – Before Midnight feels like a perhaps too intimate look into a relationship that isn't necessarily breaking apart, but is clearly under quite a bit of strain. While I was carried away with the intimacy of Before Sunrise and Sunset, I was often quite uncomfortable with the intimacy this time around.

Again though, these flaws only stress just how successful this film is at providing an intimate look into the life of a fairly ordinary couple. It's not an easy film and it certainly won't appeal to all audiences but it is a major artistic triumph and brilliantly caps off what will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest film trilogies of all time.



  1. I saw Before Sunset and I'm sure I'll enjoy this one.

    By the way, great post about Hunger Games. I just saw the movie and I really enjoyed it.


    1. Yup. I prefer Sunset - it's my favourite of the three - but if you like one, you'll like the rest.

      Thanks for posting!