Friday, February 21, 2014

BEFORE MIDNIGHT

Before_Midnight

Director: RICHARD LINKLATER

Cast: ETHAN HAWKE, JULIE DELPY

Screenplay: RICHARD LINKLATER, ETHAN HAWKE & JULIE DELPY

Music: GRAHAM REYNOLDS

Run Time: 109 min.

(2013)



Boy met girl.  (Eighteen years ago)

What started out as an experimental stand-alone film has now turned into a trilogy (and hopefully more).  We first met Celine and Jesse on their promising first date in Vienna (Before Sunrise) and then revisited the duo nine years later in Paris (Before Sunset).  It has since been another nine years.  But this time, unlike the past interval, they have spent the last nine years together instead of apart.  The couple now lives in Paris,  has twin daughters and is on a Greek island vacationing at a friend's place.  Jesse is an established writer who has been invited by an older author to visit the southern Peloponnese island.  Celine continues to work as an activist but is considering a new position.

The film begins with Jesse and Celine taking Jesse’s 14 –year old son, Hank, to the airport as he returns to the US where he lives with his mother.  Jesse is worried about not being an active presence in Hank’s life and might regret missing out on moments that can never be recreated.  Hank comes across as a smart and well-balanced teenage who is well-adjusted to his circumstances.  They function as a single, unified family unit which is manifested by Celine’s comment about Hank’s departure: “It’s like we are sending him across enemy lines.”  Jesse begins to question whether he should try to be closer to Chicago to spend more time with Hank. 

The second act offers a first for the series: Jesse and Celine interacting with other characters in a meaningful manner.  There are other interesting personalities that have been invited to the island and we are privy to a dinner setting with this endearing group.  The dinner sequence and conversation is a rich piece of cinema.  It isn't that the conversation is profound but it is so lively, engaging and warm that one wants to be a part of it. This segment offers a delightful confluence of some very interesting ideas as the authors discuss story premises and their experiences.  In all honesty, this segment does little to further the narrative but provides the lead characters a broader canvas to express themselves.

The third and final chapter is more reminiscent of the previous two films albeit much darker and heavier in tone.  Jesse and Celine have been gifted a night's stay in one of the hotels on the island.  They take a walk to the hotel through the town and begin a conversation about their relationship.  This is not a newly-wed couple or early-in-the-relationship lovers being flirtatious or tender with each other.  This is a seasoned couple comfortable with pulling no punches and being emotionally honest.  The discussion continues once they check in and get to their room.  The scene in the room is the cornerstone of the film as their conversation takes a turn for the worse and turns into a fight. The beauty of this scene is that the way the argument begins and turns into a fight (and ends) is so natural and realistic that we can identify with it completely.  Most married (or long-term) partners have lived through this fight and will admit that it is very difficult to pinpoint when the fight started.

The two leads have established their chemistry in the previous films and have grown into their roles, with clear input on the script which was developed in a workshop style.  Delpy has aged a little since the last outing but retains her radiance.  Hawke on the other hand appears to be showing the passage of time on his face a little bit more obviously.  However Hawke's Jesse seems have a better grasp on his convictions and perspective after 18 years.  Linklater provides insights into the characters via casual introspection.  For example, Jesse muses about the time when he called his dad upon his grandmother’s death and blurted out: “Hey Dad, you’re an orphan now!”.  He admits that it was not what he meant to say at the time but it reveals a bit about his personality and mindset.

The third installment does not mark the beginning of the end but is more of a testament to the maturity of the relationship.  This comes with a tinge of bitterness along with all the good that accompanies it.  The first film was about romantic beginnings and the sequel was about second chances.  This one is about reality, both good and not-so-good.  We happen to catch Jesse and Celine on a night when they have a fight but that does not define their relationship just as their previous encounters did not guarantee a fairytale lifetime.  One of Jesse's comments sums it up nicely: "But if you want true love, then this is it. This is real life. It's not perfect, but it's real."

It would have been easy to create a romanticized coda and tie the trilogy in a nice bow.  But Linklater is not one to cheat either himself, the characters or the audience.  He is bold enough to present "happily ever after" for what it is in life: a fantasy.  Which is why we hope that he and his collaborators will endeavor to provide at least one more glimpse into Jesse and Celine's life a few years down the road.



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