Before Midnight

Before Midnight ★★★★★

Richard Linklater's triumvirate of films charting the relationship of Jesse and Celine (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) has deepened, evolved and soured in ways both surprising and yet oddly inevitable over time. Having made the decision to leave his American wife and move full-time to France, we now meet the couple - 18 years after their first meeting - on an extended summer holiday in Greece with Jesse's son from his prior relationship and two daughters of their own in tow, and with evident signs of strain gradually taking their toll on a bond increasingly defined by compromise and frustration at who the other person refuses to become. Linklater's invisible approach provides a platform for his actors to deliver work of the highest order, but it is a testament to the freedom they have to roam throughout each scene's setting and the unintrusive mobility of the camera that the film never once feels staged. As the film proceeds, the characters viciously dissect the other's faults and shortcomings with a venom that only comes from knowing someone so intimately, cutting to the painful core of every anxious fear we withhold from everyone but those few we ever let in to such personal places. What began for many as vicarious wish-fulfilment has reached a point achingly real and brutally honest, and the ambiguous conclusion amplifies the sense that this is still very much a work in progress with no shortage of story left to tell. As such, the accomplishment of this series may yet require the unfolding of events yet to transpire and the full passage of time to totally appreciate.