In 1995, we met the young twenty-somethings Jesse and Céline (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) on a train in Europe. After chatting and getting to know each other – the art of conversation lost on today’s iPod generation – the two agree to spend just one evening together in Vienna and fill the hours talking and philosophising about the world. They quickly realise they have a connection but must part their separate ways in the morning and can only cherish the hours they had Before Sunrise.
In 2004, Jesse finds himself on a book tour in Paris, where by happenstance he once again encounters Céline. The pair – older and wiser about the world – spend the day catching up and reconnecting, wondering what would have happened if they had stayed in touch. However, they only have until Before Sunsetwhen Jesse must catch his flight.
Another nine years later sees Jesse and Céline together with their family on holiday in Greece. Despite love prevailing and the two building a life together, they try to come to terms with parenthood, missed opportunities and the expectations they had for their lives. Before Midnight they air their unhappiness and whether or not they can overcome the hurdles that have prevented them from being truly content.
The entire critically-acclaimed Before Trilogy is written and directed by Richard Linklater (whose only other notable work is School of Rock). As with the previous two instalments, Midnight is beautifully shot and the setting is never distracting to what’s going on, much rather it compliments it. And, while the script always focuses on just the two characters throughout the series, there is always a third character in all the films: the audience. Linklater’s true talent is making viewers the silent, non-intrusive observer to proceedings.
Writing credits have also been given to stars Hawke and Delpy, and who better to deconstruct the minds of a couple than the actors that have played them for 18 years. The script to Before Midnight is clever, touching, sometimes funny and always sympathetic towards the insecurities of both characters.
The fact that a couple can still find things to talk about after all this time and make it enthralling speaks volumes for the talents of Hawke and Delpy. Never is this showcased better than in a 10-minute-long static-camera shot inside a car: the backdrop is minimal but it is impossible to take your eyes off the screen. The draw of this film is watching two characters whose story has developed over almost 20 years and shared the same life experiences of the audience. They’re more than characters at this point; more like old friends and ones which you could quite happily spend the day with.
As with the previous two instalments, the premise is simple; the execution, even simpler. This is very much two people talking and nothing else. The results however are absolutely captivating. Filmed against the backdrop of glorious Greece as well, and what you have is a beautiful looking character study that charts the breakdown in communication between a couple who have made sacrifices to be with each other; made all the more ironic considering they spend two hours talking.
Out on DVD soon, Before Midnight is best enjoyed as the last part of the trilogy, so be sure to watch the the first two. It cannot be recommended enough.