Amid the onslaught of chaotic, brain-pummelling effects-driven computer games posing as movies comes romantic drama Before Midnight, a film that actually relies on character development and intelligent dialogue.
Before Midnight is the concluding chapter in the trilogy director Richard Linklater began in 1995 with the much-praised Before Sunrise. That film saw itinerant American student Jessie (Ethan Hawke) and French student Celine (Julie Delpy) meet on a train and spend a passionate and confessional night together in Vienna. The sequel, 2004’s Before Sunset saw them meet again as 30-somethings trying to reconcile growing adult responsibility with the unfulfilled dreams of their youth. Like the first film it ended with their relationship in a hopeful but uncertain state. Before Midnight sees Celine and Jessie now in their early 40’s living together in Paris and parents to twin daughters. The film provides only a few tantalising details about what happened in the ensuing nine years. Their lives and their relationship appear stable but as they head off to a seemingly idyllic holiday in the South Peloponnesus, personal issues and irritations begin to permeate their conversation presaging the conflict that will later threaten their relationship.
This film, like the previous instalments, is composed of thoughtful, articulate and often disturbingly realistic set-piece conversations although this time there’s a lot more arguing. As Hawke and Delpy drift from a sunlit luncheon on a Greek island to the cobblestone streets of an ancient village to the sterile interior of an upmarket hotel, their conversation shifts from playful discussions about literature and virtual reality sex to spiteful bickering about the current state of their lives.
The dialogue, which was written by Linklater, Delpy and Hawke, precisely captures the bitterness, resentment and disappointment that ensnares people as career pressures, family responsibilities and diminishing personal time take their toll. Delpy and Hawke so precisely evoke the painful emotions, sarcasm and spite of a warring couple that it’s often uncomfortable to watch. Woven into their conversations and arguments are the themes that have emerged in all three films such as the cruel march of time and the inevitability of death.
While this is a dialogue-driven film, we shouldn’t discount Linklater’s direction. Tasteful and restrained like Woody Allen at his best, Linklater’s direction gives the language and performances the space to breathe and take full effect. Linklater’s light touch, philosophical dialogue and use of naturalistic settings also recall the work of the great French director Eric Rohmer.
Before Midnight is a superbly written, powerful but nuanced film that poignantly completes a memorable trilogy.
Nick’s rating: Four stars.
Director(s): Richard Linklater.
Release date: 18th July 2013
Running time: 109 mins.
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