Monday, 1 July 2013

[Review] Before Midnight

Before Midnight (2013)
Director: Richard Linklater
Origin: USA

Rating: 10 out of 10

Before Midnight opens with a sorrow filled father-bidding farewell to his son from an estranged marriage after spending summer vacation with him. This bittersweet act sets both the discourse and the eventual catalyst for denouement in Richard Linklater’s third and, presumably, final film of his much praised ‘Before’ trilogy. Once again, we find ourselves catching up with almost every cinephile’s favourite romantic love struck couple -- Jesse and Celine.

It’s been nine years since we last caught up with them in Before Sunset. Jesse and Celine, now in a relationship with children of their own, are verging into their early forties. Both are thrusting into a midlife dilemma of sorts as they begin to question their pending future together. On the return trip to the little holiday resort in Greece where they have been spending what seems to be an idyllic vacation. Jesse (Ethan Hawke) throws out the casual suggestion of moving back to the United States so he can be closer to his son. Celine (Julie Delpy) isn’t exactly thrilled with this proposition as she is happy with where her current professional and personal life is back at home in France.

As was the case with the previous films, Before Midnight is a film made up almost entirely of discourse. In the past, the shared conversations were predominantly philosophical. The bulk of those conversations were aimed at questioning the uncertain road that lay ahead. Once upon a time those topics of discourse included life, love and death as seen through the eyes of headstrong youth. In the past, they laid their souls bare as they confessed their every thought to one another. Settled down with twin girls. Newfound responsibility has irrevocably caught up with them and as such, their lives have evolved accordingly.

It quickly becomes apparent that the honeymoon period has long since passed them by. We clue in that the two of them haven’t had the chance to sit down and engage in meaningful conversation for quite some time thanks to the drudgery’s of day-to-day routine. The once love struck couple are now so familiar with one another that they are beginning to face the burdening problem of potential boredom and other such insecurities. Therefore, this vacation is all the more meaningful to them as it finally gives them the time needed to slip away from the drudgery of the daily routine and serve as a chance to recapture a slice of their romantic past.

Rest assured fellow romantics. Even though they are slightly older and dealing with newfound emotional complexity, the spark shared between them hasn’t burnt out just yet. Outside of the melancholic tendencies that go hand in hand with growing older, deep down they are still the same people they always have been. Even though they may suffer through the hardships that come with the long term commitment, they are still able to laugh and enjoy each other’s company as they continue to philosophize over the same topics they have twice before.

Ethan Hawke may be a little more scruffier and weathered in exterior appearance but the endearing boyish charm that once made him so enamouring still remains. The same can be said for Julie Delpy who, like a fined aged wine, has blossomed from the once alluring girl into a beautiful woman. Even if this vacation is only a brief escape from routine, together they do try to make the most of it. Hawke and Delpy share the same palpable chemistry that they have always had. Nine years may have slipped by since the last film but you would be hard pressed to pick up on it as both effortlessly fill their roles with ease. Easily calling the bluff on almost ninety-nine precent of on screen relationships by being more convincing and believable than most others.

Terrifically written, performed and paced; Linklater’s direction is superb. Linklater isn’t concerned with flashy editing, lavish cinematography or an overly complex narrative. Instead, it is the simple delicacy of a wonderfully written screenplay with its insights towards the ups and downs of life. Linklater’s technique here is that of a fly on the wall. His camera stationarily observes his two leads as if it were the unspoken cast member. Despite the lavish and beautifully shot Greek resort, it’s really nothing more than a backdrop for two people talking.

Eventually the discourse breaks down into a heated back and forward argument. Linklater wisely maintains the fly on the wall mentality as he resists the urge to swing the pendulum in favour of one side or the other. Despite the overwhelming emotion poured into this lengthy scene of back and forward arguing, there is also a slight touch of humour to be had as Linklater allows us to casually observe what may be an all too familiar situation with a slight sense of irony. That irony is well balanced with the melancholic tendencies fuelling the lengthy argument.

What I like best about Before Midnight is the blunt honesty that is inherent within it. It doesn’t condemn the sappy notion of a ‘happily ever after’ with a cynical tone. Rather, it shows that the fantasy surrounding the ‘happily ever after’ is where the nonsense lies. Before Midnight concedes to the idea that a happily ever after is not just something one should be automatically entitled too. Instead, it should be earned. It is indeed possible to find a desired happily ever after, but not without some measure of trial and error. In this respect, Before Midnight is a beautifully honest film that wears its heart on its sleeves and tells it how it really is.

Rightfully so, it is matured in a way that its predecessors were not. That is not to say it is without the charm that once endeared us to these characters. I loved catching up with these characters for a third time. Hopefully this isn’t the last time that we get to catch up with Jesse and Celine. But if Before Midnight happens to be the final curtain call on these two, then at least we can take comfort that it is a very well earned and fittingly beautiful conclusion to behold. 

-Daniel M 



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