It begins tellingly at the airport. The artificial clock unseen that ticked at the heart of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset makes an early appearance in Before Midnight. We are here to say goodbye not surprisingly. It has been nine years since Before Sunset left us tantalisingly unsure as to how the romantic journey of Jesse and Celine would play out. It is not really a spoiler to say at this point that they stayed together and have two beautiful blonde twin daughters to prove it. At the airport in Greece where the family are holidaying, we see Jessie saying goodbye to his son Hank who is going back to his mother in America. Hank leaves and Jessie stares after him with a look of love mixed with parental guilt. Jessie left his son to be with Celine and the consequences of this propel the conversations that follow. The name of the film would suggest an altogether darker film and it is exactly what we get.”
Initially things are bright and sunny though. On the drive back to where they are staying, Jessie and Celine shoot the breeze in a superb unbroken fourteen minute shot. They are playful, funny and at ease with each other as their children sleep in the back of the car. But the mention of Hank is the cloud on the horizon. But the cloud passes and they arrive at a beautiful writer’s retreat where they have an idyllic meal with a group of friends. One of the couples at the meal has booked a hotel for Jessie and Celine to spend the night together while they babysit the children. All is set for a stroll down to the hotel to remind us of the previous strolls taken in European cities.
The first thing to say is that Before Midnight is a very good film if not the masterpiece some are proclaiming. That particular claim I would reserve for the previous film in the series Before Sunset. Before Midnight is a fair bit longer than the previous film (nearly 30 minutes longer) and it feels longer. Where there is not a frame wasted with Before Sunset, Midnight feels like it could have done with a trim – particularly around the lengthy meal scene. This scene has younger and older couples at the dinner table and they are meant to represent different ages to Jesse and Celine. But while the scene works for the most part it feels somewhat unnecessary. This is a couple we have happily spent time with for three films now. More people are not really needed.
But Before Midnight excels during the final act. Without wanting to go into any real detail, there is a row that escalates quite quickly. This is where the film truly comes alive and we see the real business of the film: namely the gigantic effort it takes to remain happy and in love. It requires good old fashioned work and it can all fall apart if that effort isn’t put in by both people. Before Midnight is the reality check to the optimism of Sunrise and the hopeful yet wistful Sunset.
The acting by Hawke and in particular Delpy is quite frankly astonishing. They know these roles so well. One can only imagine the sheer rehearsal work involved to make the conversations seem so natural. It is interesting to notice in all three films we see smaller characters speak in the native tongue of the country they are in but it is never translated onscreen. The only words that really matter in these films are Jessie’s and Celine’s. And what words they are. A terrific script by Delpy, Hawke and director Linklater elevates the film. There are some excellent lines in there including a contender for the best final line in a film this year. Before Midnight is a wonderful third film in a great film series. It would be tempting to call it a trilogy but I suspect that this is not the last we will hear from Jessie and Celine.