Saturday, 29 June 2013

Before Midnight

Richard Linklater’s first two “Before” films (Before Sunrise, 1995, and Before Sunset, 2004) are among my favourite films of all time. They star Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy as Jesse and Celine, two young people who, in Before Sunrise, meet on a train travelling from Budapest to Vienna and decide to spend about fourteen hours together wandering the streets of Vienna before Jesse has to catch his flight back to the U.S. Jesse is an American, Celine is French. There is very little that connects them, but on this magical night, full of conversation about life and love, and fascinating encounters with the locals, they fall in love anyway. 

When I was nineteen, I was also (like Jesse) Eurail-passing my way across Europe and I also met a young French woman on a train (I was travelling from Naples to Barcelona). We travelled together for about six or seven hours and conversed in simple German (our common language) before she (Marie) had to get off. I was also half in love by the time she left, and when I saw Before Sunrise I wondered what had kept me from getting off with her. I never saw Marie again. 

Jesse, on the other hand, meets Celine again nine years later in Paris (Before Sunset). It’s not pure coincidence because Jesse is there for the promotion of a bestselling novel he wrote based on his night with Celine. Celine is waiting for him after the book-signing and they spend the next couple of hours wandering the streets of Paris and catching up on their lives (Jesse is married and has a son; Celine is an environmental activist and has a boyfriend) and on their thoughts about life and love (they are both unhappy). The film ends suddenly and we don’t know whether Jesse made his flight back to the U.S. or what happened to them until Before Midnight, nine years later.

Before Midnight takes place in a Greek village, where we find Jesse and Celine on vacation with their eight-year-old twin daughters (obviously Jesse stayed with Celine in Paris in 2004 and Celine immediately got pregnant with twin girls). But Jesse is missing his son, who had spent the summer with them, and is trying to persuade Celine to move from Paris to the U.S. so he can be closer to his son. Celine, meanwhile, has just been given a new career opportunity in Paris. Once again, Jesse and Celine spend a memorable day in conversation about life and love, though this time the discussion gets heated.

Having loved the first two “Before” films (endless intelligent natural dialogue about life and love delivered by two excellent actors in a gorgeous European city - what’s not to love?), and seeing that the third film was getting rave reviews, my expectations were through the roof. Still I was not disappointed. Before Midnight was, if anything, better than the first two films. It’s one thing to have a romantic encounter when you barely know each other; it’s another to do so after nine years of life together. So the third film is darker but it’s also deeper and wiser and more compelling. I can’t wait to see what happens in 2022. 

Before Midnight gets a very easy **** and is assured a place in my top ten films of 2013 and my top 100 films of all-time. My mug is up!

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