Walking and talking is an art form for one of cinema's best known couples.
The first half of Before Midnight made me excited for my early forties. Mediterranean holiday tans, wild-haired children running barefoot in another room, expansive dinner table conversation with a circle of worldly friends it's a dream for a more carefree age.
But then comes the second half of the movie, an epic, exhausting fight that will either be the end of the couple's relationship or just one of several milestone feuds that mark a long commitment. That's when the rare quality of Before Midnight emerges; this is not a film about idyllic love, this is a film about real love. This is the tarnished ever after.
The couple is one we know oddly well, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), who, in a typically Gen X act of slacker romanticism, spent one night walking and talking around Vienna in 1995's Before Sunrise and were finally reunited for a further afternoon in Paris in 2004's Before Sunset. In the nine years since, it turns out they've stuck with each other, but the insouciance of those early encounters has gone. "When was the last time we just walked around bullshitting?" Jesse says in one beautifully self-aware moment, as they rediscover the pastime on holiday in Greece.
Instead, they've both been learning to deal with each other's crazy while simultaneously pushing a few years' worth of upset under the carpet. Jesse hates having to be separated from his pre-teen son, who's in the custody of Jesse's estranged ex in the US. Celine feels Jesse neglected her and their daughters while on his book tour and resents his general man-childness. Celine picks fights; Jesse papers over them. They might not ever resolve these deadlocks, but they have to move past them.
With this series of films, dialogue is everything. In Before Midnight, it sparkles, dances and defies the bounds we expect of film. All three instalments are the product of a unique collaborative partnership between director Richard Linklater, Hawke and Delpy; from the start the actors have written parts of their own selves into the characters, and the possibility for honest exploration seems to have deepened with the passing of time.
With nine years so far separating each film, the release of a sequel is becoming an event, so it's particularly great to see Before Midnight not only meeting expectations but raising the bar. People love Jesse and Celine with the intensity normally reserved for several-season TV characters (or real people, even). If we see fifty-something Celine and Jesse next decade 'Before Noon', I imagine they'll call it we'll be a very lucky audience.
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