Monday, 10 June 2013

Sydney Film Festival 2013: Before Midnight

Before Midnight
State Theatre: June 8, 2013
Directed by Richard Linklater
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy

WARNING: Contains spoilers

The much anticipated sequel to Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, Before Midnight is a continuation of the story of Jessie (Ethan Hawke) and Celine's (Julie Delphi) relationship. For anyone who hasn't seen the first two films here's a quick catch-up:

Before Sunrise: Jessie and Celine meet on a train going to Paris. She decides to get off with him in Vienna and they spend the whole evening walking and talking until he needs to get a flight back to America and she gets on a train to Paris. They promise to meet in exactly 6 months time on the very same train platform. 

Before Sunset: Nine years has passed. Jessie is a successful author on the final stop of his book tour in Paris. His novel recounts that fateful encounter nine years earlier. As it happens Celine is there the day of the signing and they spend the afternoon together, walking and talking. It turns out Jessie did turn up at the station 6 months after their initial meeting but she did not as it was her grandmothers funeral. He is (unhappily) married with a small son and she is in an (unhappy) relationship. The film ends at Celine's apartment, she is dancing and he is enchanted, she quips 'You're going to miss your plane' and he responds 'I know.'   

So, another nine years have passed and Jessie and Celine are far from the young, idealistic romantics they were in the first film. Jessie's marriage has ended badly when he decided to stay in Paris with Celine and he is struggling with being an absent parent to his son. It is the end of their summer in Greece, the couple are not married but have twin girls and the connection they once had is a mere flicker in the wind. 

There were elements of the previous films here, in particular the scene where the couple are driving back from the air port and their walk through the back streets of Greece rings true to the old model. These are the scenes that work the best. While I well appreciate the need to diversify with the inclusion of other characters into these lengthy conversations I feel they detract from the couples story, which, lets be honest, is why we're here. Those over the top, rambley conversations about life, hopes, dreams - that's what is so amazing about the first two films - the purity of it, of two people just talking.  

The character of Jessie really shines in this last film with his homour and quick wit while Celine is neurotic and argumentative. The romantic ideals of the first two films is gone and perhaps that is to be expected, after all they have been together 18 years now, but some of the old relationship would have been nice. The entire scene where Jessie and Celine argue in the hotel room really wasn't enhanced by the fact she had her breasts out. While the previous two films alluded to sex and nudity it did not rely on it for substance which the third film appears to. The magic is gone. 

Even the ending appears stale and lacking in the spark of its predecessors. Obviously there was a need to wrap up all loose ends but I didn't feel any great depth of love between them. She has just informed him she does not love him anymore and he is attempting to recapture something they once had as he approaches her in the cafe. While the final few minutes hint at a reconciliation as she finally pays in to his humour, there is not a beautiful moment, no connection where they share a laugh, a look, a smile, something that bellies the love they once shared. A love that stood the test of time and distance. 

Like the two before it, there is something unfinished in the ending of Before Midnight. Will they stay together? Will they move to Chicago to be closer to Jessie's son? Will he ever write all the books he keeps talking about? But I doubt we'll ever have the answer. Imagine, 9 years later, they'll be 50 and what will it be called - Before Retirement? It does feel like the end of an era and I confess it was a little disappointing. 

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