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Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy) first met in their twenties in BEFORE SUNRISE; reunited in their thirties in BEFORE SUNSET; and, now, in director Richard Linklater’s amazing BEFORE MIDNIGHT, they face the past, present and future; family, romance and love. Now on a writer’s retreat in Greece, the couple looks for a night of passion, but instead their idyllic night turns into a test of their relationship and a discussion of what the future holds for them.
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I should also warn that even the most cursory mention of plot points in either the 2ndor the 3rdmovie can be construed as spoilers...but it's tough to talk about the 3rdfilm without giving away some surprise. I'll balance as best I can.
In BEFORE SUNRISE, young American Jesse (Ethan Hawke), age about 23 meets young Frenchwoman Celine (Julie Delpy), age about 23. They are on a train bound for Vienna. Jesse is flying back to the US from Vienna the morning after the train arrives. Celine is on her way back to Paris after visiting family in Budapest. They strike up a conversation and clearly hit it off right away. Jesse asks Celine to get off the train with him and spend the night wandering Vienna before he has to leave Europe. The movie follows their ambling through Vienna and just lets them talk. And talk. And talk. And fall in love. For the right viewer, this was a nearly magical film that beautiful captured, through long, semi-improvised takes, the joy of two people getting to know each other and come to appreciate and even love each other. We felt like we were right there with them, and the two stars gave terrific performances. At the end, they agree they will meet again in 6 months, and we're left to wonder what happened to them.
BEFORE SUNSET tells us (spoilers coming up). It's nine years later, and Jesse is in Paris speaking about his new book, which is clearly a retelling of that night in Vienna. Celine seeks him out and we quickly discover they did NOT meet (I won't spoil why). Jesse has just an hour before he needs to leave for the airport, and he and Celine pick up their easy conversation and share about their lives, including the regrets and unhappinesses they've had. It's clear they are meant to be together...their affection blooms almost immediately. New to the equation are some minor quarrels (why didn't you come? If only you hadn't..., etc.). But in the end, Jesse is deciding to miss his flight so he can delight in being in Celine's apartment, drinking tea, listening to her sing. The final scene of the movie is one of heartbreaking simplicity and yet such complex emotion.
Now, another 9 years later, the two are each around 41 years old. SPOILERS AHEAD. They have been together since that time in Paris. They've had a sometimes rocky road, and this movie is more talking...this time in lovely Greece. They have kids. They aren't "new" to each other anymore as they were in the first 2 films. They are now capable of getting on each other's nerves. They haven't always just made each other happy. And near the end of the film, they engage in what I can only describe as the most brutal husband and wife argument since George and Martha got into it in WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF. There's no violence, but it's a rough scene. Raw and searing. Funny. Truthful. Utterly gripping.
In real life, were I to spend much time with either of these two...I think I'd seriously dislike them. They are self-centered, pretentiously "artsy" and VERY vocal. I don't think I'd want to sit and listen to them talk all day. But this is a film, and Linklater and his stars (who have co-writing credit) can take us to just the right moments. The conversations (and snatches of conversation) that tell us all we need to know about the last nine years. It's an amazing film. It's illuminating and full of so many truths. They may not always be truths I can personally relate to...but they feel true and possible and real. After the film, you talk about Jesse and Celine as though they were real people. More than just about any other movie ever, I think. Their dialogue is so specific and so revealing. Yes, these folks are more articulate than any "real" people...but we don't really want to see normal, sloppy conversation. It's enjoyable to spend some time with these folks (although, again, I wouldn't like them in "real life") because they react to each other so believably. Their words mirror their actions and their expressions. Delpy and Hawke (who I'm not normally a huge fan of) have chemistry that's astonishing...you really feel you're peeking in on something you aren't meant to see and hear.
All three films include gorgeous scenery, and BEFORE MIDNIGHT is the most gorgeous of all. The Greek countryside and seaside is lovely, and Linklater just lets his camera take it in casually. Jesse & Celine comment on it sometimes, but mostly it just flows over us. And the film is mostly a series of very long takes (the scene near the opening when they are driving from the airport back to the house they're staying at is at least 15 minutes long, and seen entirely through a front windshield...but it NEVER feels static). These films are made with such deceptive simplicity.
I acknowledge that these films could also be insufferable to watch. My wife and I rewatched the first two just before going to this latest release, and BEFORE SUNRISE feels a smidge pretentious now. I think that has more to do with the fact that I'm also 18 years older. I have less patience for the naiveté of "young love" than I used to. But that also brought home to me that a perfectly legitimate reaction to these films could be boredom or loathing of the characters. But I consider myself lucky to be swept away by all three films...and in my opinion, BEFORE MIDNIGHT is best of the bunch. It's gorgeous to look at. It's richer in themes and content. It features the biggest acting challenges and the most blistering dialogue. It's hopeful (as all the films are), but the hope is the hardest fought and hardest won here. I highly recommend all three films for ADULT viewers...not just because they contain some profane language, but because I can't imagine a child or teen really understanding what these two are blathering on about (or caring). But if you're adult and you've been in love (or are in love) and have any inkling of the complications of being an adult in our world...this film should resonate resoundingly.
Ethan Hawkes, plays Jesse, a world renowned writer, married to Celine, played by Julie Delpy. Both in their forties now. They met as young people on a train, together for a short while, then split and found each other again. Now, with two young beautiful daughters. His dreams realized, hers , not so much. Celine wants a career, her dream job. Jesse has just left his son off at the airport to make his sojourn home from Greece to Chicago. He feels much grief for not being there for his son. Left with a crazy, alcoholic mother who hates Jesse and his new wife. Much regret, as they try to work it out during this film.
Celine, on the other Gand, has regrets and pent up desires. She has left her desires to make her life with her family. During this film, both Jesse and Celine, discuss in a constant compnversation their life, their wants, their desires, what is wrong and finally what is right.
This is a gentle film with a lot of foundation. We learn a great deal from this couple, about themselves, and about ourselves. It will resonate, as I said, with everyone. Where are you in your life, what is missing, what is right, what more needs to be done. Can we meet and face these issues up front? A film for everyone.
Recommended. prisrob 12-28-13