Before Midnight (2013)
Richard Linklater’s ‘Before…’ series began in 1995 with Before Sunrise; a single day adventure in the lives of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) & Céline (Julie Delpy), two strangers who met on a train in Europe, started a conversation, instantly connected with each other & ended up falling in love while spending the entire evening together in Vienna before parting their ways the very next day. Nine years later in 2004, Linklater brought them back together once again in Before Sunset; this time set in Paris & narrated in realtime, which covers the events that occurred in both characters’ lives since their last encounter in Vienna, all narrated through conversations, and wrapped the film on an open note just like the original.
Hailed by critics & viewers alike, both the above-mentioned films became instant classics at their time of release but over the years, their reputation has grown significantly into one of modern cinema’s finest & most beloved love stories of all time. And now, surfacing nine years after the release of Before Sunset, Before Midnight is hopefully the final time we journey into the lives of Jesse & Céline and just like the previous two chapters, it’s an endearing cinematic experience that lives up to the series’ legacy, thus bringing Linklater’s Before trilogy to a magnificent & immensely satisfying conclusion. In almost all departments of filmmaking, the final chapter is as freshly envisioned, smartly scripted, honestly performed & wonderfully narrated as the last two and in few aspects, manages to surpass them as well.
Before Midnight picks up the story nine years after the events of Before Sunset and is set in Greece where Jesse & Céline are spending a summer vacation together. We come to know that they became a couple after the previous chapter’s conclusion & are now proud parents to twin girls. The plot is mainly divided into three segments of extremely engaging discussions, each connected by the couple’s chitchat about random things to fill the space in between. The first one is about Jesse who is struggling to maintain a relationship with his son from his previous marriage & feels guilty for not being there for him whereas Céline is undergoing a career crisis. The second segment shows them having a get-together at an old friend’s place where each one of them present their opinions on love & life. But it’s the third & final segment where the current status of the couple’s relationship introduces itself in the form of a vicious argument which, in the end, leaves both of them devastated & unsure about their future together.
Richard Linklater is one of modern cinema’s master storytellers and his direction here is top-notch once again as he makes this story (which shares a relatively similar structure with its predecessors) work extremely well with a rare distinction of no loss in its originality & freshness. Linklater also co-wrote the screenplay with the series’ lead actors, Hawke & Delpy, this time exploring the myriad complications of long-term commitments while also covering problems that generally troubles people in their midlife. Cinematography elegantly exhibits all the trademark styles of this director from long single-shot sequences to minimal camera movements & captures Greece in all its lushness without distracting viewers from the main story. Editing is tightly carried out too as there isn’t a single dull moment in the film for the entirety of its runtime. And last but not the least, the wonderful tracks & songs that accompany some of the scenes ends up infusing flavours of its own in an already impressive storyline.
What I really love about this series as a whole is how naturally its stories & characters have evolved from one film to the next. The Jesse & Céline we meet in this film are completely different personalities compared to the ones we met in Before Sunrise. They still possess some of that sizzling chemistry along with the comfort they have in each other’s company but this time, there is also some underlying issues between them which is waiting to explode at any moment & eventually does as the film progresses. Ethan Hawke reprises his role of Jesse; who has continued to find success as a novelist but now wants to move back to Chicago so that he can spend more time with his teenage son. Julie Deply also returns as Céline; who is dissatisfied with how her life have shaped up in the last decade or so, is confused with her carrier decisions as well & considers Jesse’s novels a monetization of their private lives, either out of disgust or pure jealousy. And just like the last two times, both actors have given a truly mesmerizing, multi-layered & intensely emotional performance as one of cinema’s favourite couples and were at their absolute best in the film’s final act.
The riveting chitchats Jesse & Céline have in all three films is more or less about love & life only, with age playing a major factor in their changed views on everything as we move from one chapter to the next. The gossips in Before Sunrise mainly concentrated on each other’s ex-partners, interests, ambitions, notions of love & carried an optimism plus joyousness which one can find in youths who are just starting out with their lives. Before Sunset, set nine years after the events of the first chapter, introduced a much greater maturity in these characters which is further reflected in their discussion as well, this time dealing with their more evolved perspectives on jobs, career & relationships along with the bitter realization that life never always turns out the way one wants it to; a viewpoint most people would agree with. The conversation in Before Midnight, however, is much more intricate & messier than what’s present in the last two films for it covers the situations most married couples or people in their midlife find themselves in; problems like marriage woes, career crisis, depleting sex life, increasing boredom, adultery, past regrets or fights & arguments over petty things.
When it was introduced in 1995, Before Sunrise was a very fresh & original take on a modern love story which later became one of the foremost examples of a romantic film done right. Nine years later in 2004, Before Sunset elevated the legacy of the original to new heights by improving upon it in astonishing ways & is one of cinema’s most celebrated romance dramas. And now in 2013, nine years after the second chapter, Before Midnight triumphs as another ingeniously crafted sequel to cement the decades-spanning love saga of Jesse & Céline as one of modern cinema’s greatest love stories. It so naturally depicts the disputes which are prevalent in most relationships & goes on to signify that every long-term commitment requires relentless effort, sacrifice & compromise from both partners in order to function properly. On an overall scale, Before Midnight is an intelligent, absorbing, honest, witty & incredibly entertaining cinema which in the end was truly worth the wait, is one of the best films of last year, is one of the best sequels of all time and, along with Before Sunrise & Before Sunset, is one of the best film trilogies in motion picture history. Strongly recommended.