I will get to Mandela soon, but first, the real gem of the week.
This review is also up at Channel 24.
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
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.