Review by Victoria Large
Posted on 15 June 2013
Reviews: Before Sunset
Reviews: Before Sunrise
Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and now the wonderfully-titled Before Midnight have been described as a kind of accidental franchise, an indie answer to the blockbuster spin-offs, sequels, and reboots that rule the summer. It’s fun to point out the obvious contrast: while the familiar crop of superheroes race to save the world, Linklater’s perennial paramours, Celine and Jesse, are busy enough just contemplating it. Still, it may be more apt to draw a comparison between Linklater’s film series and François Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel cycle, which consists of five films following the same character from fraught adolescence into marriage, fatherhood, and divorce. While Before Sunset was a surprisingly effective sequel to a film that didn’t seem to need one — a pleasing reunion with old friends — Before Midnight changes the game. It makes us feel like we’re following these characters through life.
The first two films mirror one another in structure, with Jesse and Celine meeting by chance and finding that they have only a specific amount of time to spend together, but the third film wisely dispenses with this conceit. Jesse and Celine are now together for what should be forever: though unmarried, they are committed to each other and have beautiful twin daughters. The details of the last nine years trickle in throughout the film: Jesse divorced his wife to be with Celine, eventually moving to France and reluctantly separating from his now-teenage son, who lives in America with Jesse’s ex. Jesse and Celine’s unlikely international romance now has some painful fallout, and we sense both of them weighing whether it’s been worth it. This is gutsy stuff: an achingly honest film about love and its complications that probably wouldn’t make for ideal viewing on a first date.
I don’t mean to suggest that Before Midnight is an entirely bitter follow up. At times, it soars with the kind of magic that pervades 1995’s Before Sunrise. The setting in the Peloponnese region of Greece (where Jesse and Celine are spending a vacation) offers a welcome touch of travelogue, and when the two leads start strolling through their gorgeous surroundings, sharing typically heady conversation, fans of the previous films will feel their hearts skip. Delpy and Hawke, who co-wrote the screenplay with Linklater, once again give great performances, and if I may be shallow for a moment, they both look great. One can’t help but search for evidence of another nine year’s passing in the faces of the leads (not that there’s much), or twig to the new rasp in Hawke’s voice, but in a way that’s to the film’s advantage. Since the beginning, this story has been as much about the passing of time as it is about romance.
At its core, Before Midnight is a film that wonders whether love is doomed to fade with time, or whether it can instead transform, but remain, as the years go by. Jesse and Celine aren’t sure, but the question brings their simmering neuroses to the surface. When the couple is alone behind closed doors — the result of well-meaning friends who gifted them with a one-night hotel getaway — their fears, frustrations, and rawest emotions come out. It hurts to see these characters fight, but it’s also genuinely refreshing to see a film get this real: in what other high-profile release are you going to hear a female character share her ambivalence about motherhood, confessing that the only time she gets to think is when she uses the restroom at the office? We don’t doubt that these two will always share a deep connection, but Linklater isn’t about to pretend that happily ever after exists. As singer Jonathan Richman had it: true love is not nice. Still, there’s a mature kind of optimism here: an allowance for the possibility that an imperfect relationship can have a hope and beauty all its own.