Sunday, May 26, 2013

"Before Midnight"

 4.5 / 5 

The Before series is turning into one of mainstream cinema's greatest and most satisfying experiments, reuniting the same actors as the same characters every nine years as they age.

Most movie sequels are intent on delivering more of the same.  Three or five or 15 years later, characters experience little change, because they have to retain the same qualities that made audiences like them in the first place.

Before Midnight, then, is a genuine cinema rarity: A sequel that strikes an entirely different chord than its predecessors.  The original film, Before Sunrise, explored romantic infatuation; the next, Before Sunset, watched that romance turn to longing -- a longing, Before Midnight reveals, that was finally fulfilled.

After their exquisite meeting in Paris nine years ago, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) left his wife and child to live with Celine (Julie Delpy) as a novelist.  Now, they're vacationing in Greece, and things are complicated: They've never married but they have two daughters, and Jesse's son from his previous marriage offers a stark reminder that the ex-wife hates the man's guts.  Like the other two films, Before Midnight takes place over the course of a single day, but deviates in meaningful ways from director Richard Linklater's template.

For one thing, Jesse and Celine are not the only characters of importance; their lives encompass other people; the intrusion and influence of outsiders is an important issue in Before Midnight, and the prominent way other people figure into the movie directly confronts the audience: You thought you were going to get these two lovebirds on their own, but things are more complex than that.

Eventually, they do go off together, and Greece makes a stunning backdrop visually as they stroll through ruins and along impossibly romantic pathways -- ultimately winding up in a hotel room that strips away the romantic pretense and looks like it could be any room in any hotel in the world.

It's here that things get really interesting, because Before Midnight knows the time for the romantic cooing and cuddling of these two people is long past.  This time, the illusions, resentments, hostilities and genuine worries -- given only passing mention in the first films -- come to the fore.

Almost a third of the film's running time is devoted to what happens in the hotel, beginning with an awkward and tentative attempt at sex, through to a harrowing realization and declaration.

Before Midnight is not a gentle movie; if its first few scenes lull you into smiling satisfaction, the last few leave you wondering the same questions Jesse and Celine face -- most notably, what did they ever see in each other to begin with?

After Before Sunset, it was hard to imagine revisiting these characters.  Before Midnight presents a solution brilliant in its simplicity: Let them become very different people than they were nine years ago.

Ditching the romantic pretenses of the first two films is as shocking a move as, say, painting Iron Man's suit pink.  And for a certain crowd, Before Midnight is at least as eagerly anticipated as one of those blaring, hyperkinetic summertime blockbusters -- and the less romantic, more realistic approach may be as off-putting to some Before fans than any shock Superman might have up his sleeve.

The result is a film that is less easy to love than the first two, at least on first viewing, but that's very much the point: When romance fades into everyday love, it loses its appeal.  Relationships are hard and very often one-sided and unfair.  Life's ambitions become less overtly daring, but even more difficult and exhausting, than climbing a mountain.  And yet, it's all still worth it.

No final scene could be as nearly perfect as the final shots of Before Sunset, but Linklater and his actors (not to mention Christos Voudouris, whose cinematography is exquisite) come very close in Before Midnight.  The scene and the emotions are very different, but they leave us with the same hope: That we'll meet Jesse and Celine in another nine years.  And then nine after that ...

Viewed May 25, 2013 -- ArcLight Hollywood


1 comment:

  1. Well-written analysis of the film! I just watched it, and I do hope we'll meet Jesse & Celine again, 9 years later. I can't help it - I've made a long term investment! ;-)