Sad Hill Media

Film & Lesser Arts with Will Ross, Devan Scott, & Daniel Jeffery.

by Will Ross

Linklater’s first two Before movies are special occasions. I’ve never seen another film capture the fleeting romance of Before Sunrise’s hyper-extended meet cute, and Before Sunset — besides being an uncommonly rich and mature sequel — is one of my very favourite suspense films. (If you haven’t seen those films, I insist that you stop reading this and watch them, because much of their charm lies in their unpredictability, and I intend to spoil the hell out of them.)
Because of this, I went into Before Midnight very much wanting to like it. Few fictional characters’ lives feel so concurrent with reality as Ethan Hawke’s Jesse and Julie Delpy’s Celine, and it’s frustrating to have to banish shoddy follow-ups from your thoughts as you watch the originals. And even if I tried (and it’s usually no problemo), I’m not sure that I could in this case; these movies depend heavily on the sense that the years you don’t see in their life are real, lived-in years, and that the films just pop into the romantic turning points in those years. That’s part of what made the real-time aesthetic of Before Sunset so appealing, and what made its final fade to black so sublimely frustrating. But though I wasn’t exactly expecting another real-time feature, I wasn’t prepared for Before Midnight’s breaks from earlier entries, like the emphasis on supporting characters in the film’s first half, which sets the story on the last day of a vacation in Greece. Celine and Jesse are staying on the property of an aging novelist, who regularly puts up novelists whom he admires. For the first time in the series, Hawke and Delpy are joined in a conversation about romance and its place in the modern world, and each other couple is filled with vivid people and somber characterizations of love’s prospects. Nonetheless, the meat of the film is still the Celine-Jesse dialogues, which are as riveting and revealing as we’ve come to expect them to be, as Celine lashes out at any insinuations against her independence and Jesse continues to cope with his regrets over his broken family life in America. These characters and conversations have received plenty of due praise over the years, and if all that series veterans want to know before seeing Before Midnight is whether they have depreciated, the answer is a very relieved “no.” But those aforementioned breaks are where the movie draws its new powers and revelations from, and Before Midnight masterfully references moments and formal conceits of the first two films to deepen its themes of memory, commitment, and the passing of time. the central pair's near-predictive familiarity with each other is a far cry from the naïve discoveries of Sunrise, and a heavier use of dolly shots and tripod shots subtly demarcates it from the freewheeling steadicam stroll of Sunset. That signature strolling through historical Europe does return, but only for a painfully brief sequence, capped off with a metaphor for life’s ephemeral nature whose cliché would be a problem if not for the heartbreaking reactions of the couple.
This all leads into the climax, an extended dialogue scene in a hotel room (it felt like an hour, though it must have been less than half that length) whose cool palette, closed-off architecture, and claustrophobic lack of mobility represent the series’ greatest departure yet from its famous romantic style. The camera placement, blocking, and business of the scene are perhaps Linklater’s most detailed achievement yet as a director, and the writing at the core of the scene is by turns hilarious and harrowing, constantly sweeping our expectations back and forth between heartbreak and reconciliation. I alluded to the sense of real time passing between each films, but for all of Before Midnight’s views of impermanence, it resonates backwards through the first two films and suggests that these characters are fighting for their destinies. It is no coincidence that in Jesse’s first meeting with Celine in Sunrise and his last in Midnight he observes their relationship as a sort of time travel, where they have to grab any chance at love now to save themselves from future regret. But now they are middle-aged, the future is shortening, and for better or for worse, the chance to change life’s course may have faded away for good,


Best Seattle Divorce Attorney Engle Law Group said...

As an organic experiment in collaboration between actors and director, it is a triumph, co-created and co-owned by Delpy, Linklater and Hawke.

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