Film review: Before Midnight – spoiler!

2 Jul

On Sunday, I was excited to watch the brilliant Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke for their third Richard Linklater film as Jesse and Celine. We first saw them meet on a train at the tender age of 23 on their romantic adventure around Vienna in ‘Before Sunrise’. Nine years later came ‘Before Sunset’ – my personal favourite – which saw the two reunited after Jesse, now a writer, has written about their meeting all those years ago, and we learn how they had not met again since then. Nine years later, they are older and more cynical, with regrets and hopes and the spark between the two is definitely there. Jesse, for one, is unhappily married  with a young son and the emptiness of his of life has led him to go in search for this elusive Celine he met all those years ago. In ‘Before Sunset’, Jesse and Celine meet in Paris and look at each other with a sense of ‘what if’ and ruminate about how their lives would be different had they met each other again.

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So with ‘Before Midnight’, another nine years have passed, with both characters now forty one years old and contemplating the onset of their ‘middle years.’ We learn that they have not only stayed together since we last saw them at the end of ‘Before Sunset,’ but they have also had twin daughters although they are not married.  They laughingly talk about being bad parents but behind the laughter, their concerns about whether they are good parents are palpable, resulting in a tense atmosphere.  The air is fraught with insecurities about growing older and they contemplate about their first meeting and what made them fall in love with each other.  At one point, Celine says that the flecks of red in Jesse’s beard that she loved when they first met have disappeared – a telling statement for their relationship which has grown increasingly stale and lacklustre. For those who enjoy the witty, sometimes laugh-out-loud repartee between the two, you will not be disappointed. The cinematography is also, as expected in Linklater films, gorgeous – it is set in Greece as Jesse and his family have been invited to stay with a renowned writer for six weeks.

As the film progresses, we learn of Jesse’s regrets at leaving his son with his ex wife and his desire to spend more time with him although he lives in Chicago while Jesse, Celine and the twins live in Paris. We are provided an insight into Celine’s vulnerability – she often questions Jesse as to whether he still finds her attractive and their relationship, which was once characterised by affectionate touching and gazing, has matured into something more familiar and less charged with sexual energy.

I have to admit that I found the first half of the film rather slow-moving and the other characters that populated the writer’s house largely irrelevant. The part where the film really started to draw me in was when Jesse and Celine spend a night alone in a hotel room – a gift from their friends – and the night quickly disintegrates into a heated argument between the two, spurred on by Jesse’s desire for Celine and the girls to move to Chicago so he can be nearer his son. What I found incredibly poignant was the exploration of Celine’s feelings of inadequacy in comparison with the Celine character as immortalised in Jesse’s books.  The real Celine has aged and changed whereas she remains constant and the same youthful idealistic young woman in his books.  At one point, she is asked by a fan of Jesse’s to sign a copy of the book and it is clear that her awkwardness signifies the incongruity she feels between her real self and this imagined self of someone she used to be.  She feels that he has almost stolen her identity by writing about her and envies the fact that he is applauded as being a writer while her current job is ultimately unsatisfactory. I loved this exploration of Celine’s character – for me, her character was far more interesting than Jesse’s and Delpy played the role with a subtlety and beautiful vulnerability.

Linklater also introduces the idea of infidelity – both characters accuse the other of cheating, and neither actually explicitly rejects each accusation. The accusation that Jesse cheated on Celine while she was back in Paris looking after the twins just after giving birth was particularly heartbreaking and a clear message that perhaps love isn’t enough.
The end, in typical Linklater style, was ambigious and it is unclear whether they stay together after Celine declares that she doesn’t think she is in love with Jesse any longer. It’s the stuff of real life, which is perhaps why it is all the more painful and melancholic. In a way, I wish Linklater decided they live happily ever after but I suppose the realistic portrayal of relationships and the raw dialogue is why the ‘Before -‘ films have been hailed as some of the best films of the last century.

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