Made 18 years after the first film Before Sunrise and 9 years after the second film Before Sunset, Before Midnight is the third in a series of films about a woman and a man in their 20s who met in Europe then went their separate ways. Now in their 30s, they then bumped into each other once again in France while he is on a book tour and they are both with other people. Now 9 years after that they are together and the parents of twin 9-year-old girls. The saga and plenty of discussion continues.
Jesse (Ethan Hawke – Reality Bites, Training Day) and Céline (Julie Delphy – Broken Flowers, 2 Days in New York) have ended up together. They are spending the summer in Greece with friends. Jesse has just seen his teenage son Hank (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick – Moonrise Kingdom, The Omen – 2006) from his first marriage off back to the United States. Because Jesse and his ex-wife are not on good terms he does not often get to see Hank and it tears him up. While driving back to their friends’ place he wonders out loud to Céline if they could move to Chicago from Paris. This is bad timing on Jesse’s part because Céline has been thinking about taking a new job with the government.
Over dinner back at their friends’ house they find out that they have been given the gift of a night in a hotel where they can spend some time alone as a couple without the girls. It is intended to be a night of passion and it begins that way, but as often is the case with Jesse and Céline a discussion begins and it leads to accusations, anger, insults, questioning of decisions made, and a difficult talk about what the future holds for them.
Though I have liked all three of the Before films this is my favourite. Richard Linklater’s (The School of Rock, Dazed and Confused) film is a success on many levels making it one of the better films to be released in 2013.
It really hit all the bullseyes of what I look for in a film. I am roughly the same age as the lead characters and can really identify with where they are in their lives. In other words, I could relate to everything they were feeling and talking about. Speaking of talking, the film is not for everyone in that it is dialogue heavy. Especially the last 30-45 minutes which is really just one big discussion/argument between Jesse and Céline. An argument in which they let loose with every ugly thing they have ever thought about the other over the course of their years together.
It takes a special kind of actor/actress and a unique relationship between actor-actress to pull off this long, emotionally heavy scene. Not only do they pull it off, but they pull you in. You feel what they must be feeling with every angry word cutting into your emotional flesh. Your emotional investment in what is going on between the two is total. Julie Delphy has the more showy part and she is wonderful in it. Taking care not to make Céline too bitchy or crazy so that we would end up disliking her. Ethan Hawke turns in a strong performance as well as the calmer of the two. With their performances being so strong the film never suffers from a been-there-done-that feeling. The characters remain as fresh as when we first met them 18 years ago.
What really makes everything work is the script/dialogue. Written by Delphy, Hawke and Linklater, it is witty, cutting, intelligent, engaging, and at times harsh. They are bang on in their portrayal of a mature love relationship. It is shown in all its glory and never hides the warts. Totally deserving of an Oscar nomination.
A film like this really renews my faith in the art form. For all the crap films that are released over the course of a year there are still a handful of gems like this one. Also demonstrates that you don’t need a huge budget or the backing of a large studio to make a great film. This was a totally independent undertaking. They did not get a studio to sign on until the film was screened at Sundance and then Sony jumped at it. Wise decision.
-Revisiting Jesse + Céline
-Q+A With Ethan Hawke, Julie Delphy and Richard Linklater
-Before Midnight Soundtrack