in Criterion Month, Review

Before Midnight (2013)

And so the trilogy comes to a close. At least that seems to be the case considering Richard Linklater missed the window. What I mean is that all three Before films were released nine years apart from each other. Meaning 2022 would have been the year for “Before Noon” (my title idea, not theirs). It doesn’t look like that’s gonna happen but there was talk.

What I read was that Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke couldn’t come up with a good enough idea within the time frame. So the series isn’t dead per se. Linklater has spoken of the possibility of a future short film or maybe a film where the pair are elderly. I love to hear it, but Linklater has to stop lining up projects he may not live to see (Look up Merrily We Roll Along and you’ll see what I mean).

I thought I’d get more than my fill of Jesse and Celine after three movies but I could honestly watch this couple time and time again. There’s a realism to the Before series that only feels truer with each installment. I think because if you spend enough time with a character, eventually they’ll just feel real. Hawke and Delpy have spent so much time developing these roles and their relationship together. It’s rare that we as an audience see a character or characters so fleshed out.

It’s weird that the easiest series to compare the Before films to are the Up Films. One might be a documentary series and the other a narrative series, but both explore the decisions we make and how we learn to live with those decisions in the passing years. Which is why Before Midnight is the most intense installment of the series thus far.

On to the plot, Nine years after Before Sunset, Jesse and Celine are now a couple (not married) with twin girls living in Paris on a vacation to Greece. Jesse drops off his son from his previous marriage at the airport in a scene that plays like a lighthearted opening. Of course as the film progresses we see how much living apart from his son tears Jesse up inside.

Celine is struggling with the choice to accept a government job that would result in less time spent with her family. Celine and Jesse seem to be getting through their issues with the strength of their relationship but all it takes is for these little cuts to turn into gaping wounds. Which they do. Not literally of course.

The first half of the film is mostly spent reminiscing about good times, eating with friends, and sightseeing. Where the tone shifts is when Celine and Jesse become intimate later on and in a state of vulnerability open about their problems. Of course each character takes these issues as attacks. Celine feels like Jesse believes she is keeping her from his son. Meanwhile, Jesse feels like Celine resents him for his lackadaisical approach to life. Jesse still plays the part of a hopelessly cool author even though he has a family and responsibilities.

What Before Midnight does so well is it doesn’t pin you against either character. It reminds me of the film A Marriage Story but with a key difference. Now I really like A Marriage Story, but with how that film is framed, I find it much harder to root for Scarlett Johansson’s character. Even though she has just as much a right to be dissatisfied with her partner as Adam Driver.

In Before Midnight you spend almost every waking minute with both of these characters. There aren’t many additional scenes to give one side the edge in the story. They are equals. And because Hawke and Delpy both contribute to the writing process it always feels incredibly fair and balanced.

It’s funny (or maybe sad) that in a series of films about having conversations these characters start to divert from each other because of a lack of communication. Because it’s not just about talking, it’s about saying what you feel, not what you think the other person wants to hear. Honesty can be hurtful but in the long term it is what builds a strong relationship. That’s what these characters learn in this series. They don’t even have it exactly right by the film’s end but as the film shows us, we never stop growing as people.

If love is like magic then Sunrise is about finding magic, Sunset is about reclaiming magic, and Midnight is about learning what magic means. That may sound corny to any non-wizards out there but I like to think that’s a fair read on this series.

What could be next? Will there be a NEXT? Time will tell. Maybe they just got stuck on the title. Before Midnight is a good movie and good title. Which reminds me, I only got a few minutes to get this thing posted before ACTUAL midnight. Until next time, Otteni out.