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Before Midnight | Review

Bewitching Hour: Linklater Scores Greatest Hour Yet with Trilogy Cap

Nearly another decade has passed, and Richard Linklater has finally treated us to what seems to be the final chapter of Jesse and Celine, those two beautifully realized and romantic characters we met in 1995’s Before Sunrise and once again in 2004’s Before Sunset. As laudable (and necessary) as those first two chapters are, they can’t quite compare to this latest entry, the best and most emotionally potent outing we’ve seen yet. One can’t quite (and shouldn’t) consider this to be the absolute last we’ll see of these beloved characters, as another decade down the road may very well produce another chapter, but as far as worthwhile and natural progression goes, Linklater and crew would be hard pressed to best Before Midnight.

It seems Jesse (Ethan Hawke) really missed that plane back in 2004, and left his wife back in the US to pursue a relationship with Celine (Julie Delpy). Unfortunately, the mother of Jesse’s child still has custody, and we pick up the story with Jesse saying goodbye to his teenage son at the end of a family vacation in Greece, where father makes guilty goodbyes to nonchalant son. Leaving the airport, Jesse and Celine still have some short time left in Greece (they live in Paris), and so they return with their twin daughters to their Greek hosts for one last dinner. On the way, Jesse muses about possible future plans of being closer to his son, setting off a rankling discussion that weaves its way throughout the remaining narrative. Their Greek friends, (including director Athina Rachel Tsangari in the role of Ariadne), treat Jesse and Celine to a final private evening together by purchasing them a hotel nearby. Once there, the couple’s initial drifting into romantic and sexual inclinations is quickly thwarted by real life issues and conversations that have currently faced the couple, resulting in an arduous bout of emotional outbursts.

Clearly, Before Midnight is the final frontier of the mystery sustained in Linklater’s first two films, where we wondered, would these two individuals finally have the chance to get together? And clearly, what makes this latest venture the most potent is that fact that cold, hard reality has finally set in for Jesse and Celine. Still passionate, intelligent and vivacious people, they’ve built a family together and have since become weary parents, with domesticity blurring and blinding romance, sex, and more often than not, a general sense of positivity towards one another. As wonderful as it was to watch the decade long passion the two held for each other, Linklater sails us past their honeymoon period to the doldrums that every long term relationship encounters. And since we cherished and maybe related to their growing feelings for one another, our upset at their raw and realistic current state is all the more excruciating. We know why they got together, but do we know why they continue to stay together?

Before Midnight is filled with the signature smart dialogue, once again written by Linklater, Delpy, and Hawke, and those gloriously long uncut takes of walking and talking we’ve loved from the other films. But never before have we seen the pair in the unadulterated, merciless bickering as in the final act, where finally, we may have the nerve to want to look away. Here Linklater utilizes DP Christos Voudouris (ALPS, 2011) instead of Lee Daniel, who served as cinematographer on the previous films and with whom he usually collaborates. While the look and locale have changed once more, the result feels like a logical continuation of the same, with faces and feelings wearied by the obdurate onslaught of time. Of course, it goes without saying that Hawke and Delpy are in top form here, and have, to their credit, given us one of the best trilogies in American cinema.

Reviewed on January 21 at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival –PREMIERES Programme.
108 Min.

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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