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In what will become one of the most beloved trilogies ever made, Richard Linklater’s films Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and now Before Midnight, deserves to rank among one of the best studies of love and relationships ever put on film.  We were first introduced to Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) in Before Sunset when they fell in love on a train in Austria. After plans fell through for both to meet up again six months later they didn’t meet again until nine years later in a Paris bookstore in the second film Before Sunset. Now, eight years later in Before Midnight, we see where they are now. This time around they are married with twin girls.  Jesse left his wife shortly after reconnecting with Celine in Paris while he divides his time in Chicago, where his 14-year-old son Hank lives.

This time the romantic backdrop is Greece, where they have been spending the summer at a villa owned by an academic colleague of Jesse’s, who has used they vacation as an opportunity to write his third novel and to spend time with his son Hank before he heads back to the Chicago after his summer vacation.  Upon first glimpse at the state of their marriage, everything appears to be fine, but the romantic spark is missing. What unfolds in the film is a beautifully honest examination of their relationship, and the rocky road it has taken them throughout the years.

Why these films appeal to so many people largely lies in the strength of the writing by Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy. How many other films can you think of where the two leads co-write the screenplay?  Essentially the film is one long conversation from beginning to end. There is something fresh and delightfully simple about its approach to telling its story by merely using the spoken word.  These films have always been about the power of dialogue, and the authenticity of the performances by Hawke and Delpy have never been as on point as they are in this film.  There’s something inside both of these character’s that is so relatable; these are characters we feel close to.  All of this is a testimony to how natural both of these actors are in these roles that they practically molded themselves from the ground up.

It would be easy for Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy to put this movie on autopilot and just deliver a charming romance, but they discover something deeper, and troubling inside this relationship. Have they grown bored or sick of putting up with each other? Did they make the right decision by trying to make their relationship work? And can they relive the same passion that made them fall in love some twenty years ago? The build-up of the film comes to a heated conversation that lasts nearly a third of the film, taking place in a hotel room.  In most cases, a 40-minute argument would be unbearable, but not for a film like this. There’s something oddly absorbing about this scene.  It’s a brutal scene that caries so much honesty in its performances, and dialogue that is rarely seen in romances.

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The beauty in the storytelling of these films is that it follows the progression of character growth, something that is hardly ever done well in American sequels. Almost like the Doinel Cycle made by the French New Wave director Francois Truffaut, which followed the path of a little boy in the 400 Blows to manhood in Stolen Kisses and Love On the Run, these films have a similar feel. Why do sequels have to be reserved for big blockbusters? Or perhaps we shouldn’t call Before Midnight a sequel since it’s essentially about these compelling characters as they go through life.  Can’t life on film itself be bigger than the idea of it being played out as a sequel?

One of the most gratifying experiences for a moviegoer is feeling genuinely lucky enough for films this special to have a place in popular culture, and I felt lucky to have seen all of these films build up to its finale in Before Midnight.

But, after all, maybe this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Jessie and Celine…