From dawn to dusk
There is an ebb and flow to the laughter between the men and women of my theater, during Before Midnight. As Jesse makes a salient point about the manic nature of women, the men laugh. When Celine talks about the self-serving nature of men, the women laugh. Sometimes between the (now married) couple`s reminiscing, philosophizing, and bickering, something particularly universal and poignant is said that makes the men and women laugh in unison.
Before Midnight isn't a romance. It's a war between man and woman, each battling for righteousness and pride. The two lovers stand like titans on the screen, echoing our own complaints about the opposing sex. Words are thrown like punches, and when they go down together, the audience claps in unison.
[This review was posted as part of our 2013 Sundance Film Festival coverage. It has been reposted with second opinions from other staff members to coincide with its screenings at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival.]
Before Midnight opens with Jesse saying goodbye to his son, the one he left behind in Chicago after divorcing his first wife for Celine. It's a touching portrait of a father who can't bear to see his son go, and the effect this moment has on him doesn't fade away throughout the film (as it is with life). The camera then follows Jesse to a car parked outside the airport, where Celine and their two daughters await. The remainder of the film goes something like: car ride, sitting, lunch, walking, more sitting, and then some real high-stakes sitting to bring the film to a climax. As with Sunset and Sunrise, Midnight remains a compelling film despite no actual conflict until the last act, one filled with tension that never graced the previous two films.
There is a lack of action but never a lack of compelling beauty, which comes from the gorgeous countryside of Greece and the genuine chemistry between Hawke and Delpy. As much as I loved Delpy's interaction with Adam Goldberg and Chris Rock in her 2 Days in Paris and New York, the relationship she has with Hawke is profound and uncanny in its realism. I've never seen a film where a couple arguing half-naked appeared so genuine. In the film's darker moments, I felt like an unwanted voyeur. In the film's lighter moments, Jesse and Celine are dear friends that I can almost reach out and touch. Such is the naturalism in performance and direction contained within Before Midnight.
Richard Linklater gives Before Midnight larger, composed images to complement the wider scale of emotion in this entry. Celine and Jesse don't simply live for each other, in this film. The world is bigger than their love. Linklater opens the door to new characters that reflect on their relationship. Widows mourn their old flames and a young couple hints at what Before Sunrise may have been if Jesse and Celine lived in the era of Skype. The 30 or so minute middle of the film that finds Celine and Jesse having lunch at a gorgeous, historic estate brings so much to the entirety of Before Midnight. German cinematographer Walter Lassally, playing the role of the estate's host, gives one of the warmest performances I've ever seen. I love this man.
Long after the film ended, one of the many brilliant monologues stuck with me. Jesse, evaluating parenthood, reflects back on his teenage years, concluding that he wanted life to speed up so he could move out of his parents' house. Now, he only wants life to slow down so he can enjoy the years with his wife and children that seem to slide right past him. His son (of a previous marriage) is now mature enough to not need Jesse's omnipresence and old enough to offer his dad advice back. This isn't just an observation of Jesse's; it's a truth about life that fills every moment of Before Midnight. It's a film about accepting the flaws of the life we chose, finding happiness where we can, and enjoying the passing minutes that fill the day.
Jesse and Celine may not be quite as beautiful and young as they once where, but that was never what made them an envious couple. It's the rapid imagination they share: The private performances they put on for each other, the elaborate theories that they entertain, and the always conscious conversations that march instead of wander. Maybe a decade ago I wanted a romance like Jesse and Celine's, but now I want to be their son.
Hubert Vigilla: Before Midnight is easily going to be one of the best films of 2013, and I've already reserved a slot for it somewhere in my top five of the year. Watching the movie felt like catching up with old friends I haven't seen in a long while. So much of what's happened in the intervening years since Before Sunset is conveyed naturally through the writing, which is just as fresh and as alive as the first two films in the series. It feels like Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy have only deepened their initial ideas on love, and a tinge of sad, hard-earned wisdom can be found in a lot of the film, which makes so many moments cut with painful truths about divorce, bitterness, jealousy, sex, parenthood, and regret.
There's a different sort of tone to Before Midnight given what's happened in the last nine years and what's at stake on this particular day of Jesse and Celine's lives. If Before Sunrise was about young love and love at first sight, and Before Sunset was about second chances with the one that got away, Before Midnight is about what happens to complicated relationships that have lasted this long. Do Jesse and Celine have something that goes deeper than just flirtation and brief encounters, or is this the death of their magic? (And is the idea of love as magic bullshit?)
Before Midnight is the biggest movie in the series so far, expanding its conversation about the nature of relationships outside of Jesse and Celine's thoughts on the matter. There's a wonderful scene in the film that's reminiscent of Plato's The Symposium, in which different people talk about their ideas of love. That riff on Plato makes what happens afterward seem like a bit of peripatetic philosophy about love, which is really what all these films have been. Like one of Plato's dialogues, the philosophy comes in the form of a work of art; unlike the dialogues, there's no pedantic argument toward a divine answer. What we're left with instead is the beautiful complications of real life. Everywhere the film dazzles with this sort of undeniable authenticity. 92 -- Spectacular
Alec Kubas-Meyer: I'm glad that I hadn't seen the first two Before movies until recently (as in, within a couple of days of seeing the newest film), because I'm finally old enough to start appreciating them. Had I seen them years ago, I would have undoubtedly appreciated the beautifully minimalist camerawork and unparalleled characterization and dialogue, but the underlying emotions would be too far in the future for me to comprehend. It's possible that I'm still a bit too young for a film about 41 year olds and their troubled marriage to truly hit, but what makes Before Midnight so brilliant is the way it brings in multiple generations to put the cinematic relationship 18 years in the making into a different perspective. Whether you are in your 20s or your 80s, the film speaks for you and your generation, and it does so with brilliantly crafted wordplay.
I realized while watching Before Sunset (less than 12 hours before I would be seeing Before Midnight) that Ethan Hawke's Jesse and Julie Delpy's Celine are probably the two most consistent and compelling characters to ever be put on screen. Seeing the films practically back to back to back is bizarre, honestly, because it feels like Richard Linklater and a camera crew are just showing up every nine years to check on these people. Every time there is a cut that shows this isn't an incredibly elaborate multi-camera setup, it surprises me just a little bit. It all feels so real that any definitive evidence of artifice is jarring and saddening. The dialogue is so amazing, the performances are so realistic, and everything else is just so authentic that it all seems completely real.
I'm hopeful that in nine years we can check in with the pair again. I want to see how their lives have evolved as the world evolves around them and their kids grow up. In some ways, I feel like this score (one of the highest I've ever given) is too low, but it's because the film doesn't really break new ground. It's an incredible film, but so are its predecessors. Although the cast and locations are expanded a bit, it's not so new that it will shake cinema to its core. Don't let that stop you from seeing Before Midnight, though. In fact, don't let anything stop you from seeing it. 93 -- Spectacular