Bertram Julius Krogh’s review published on Letterboxd:
"You remember that guy who loved you, and you had that great romance with? It's me."
This is it. This is how films are truly supposed to be. Not some peppered version of what could happen, but a slice of daily life sprawling with reality in the clearest sense of the word. The situations displayed on screen are so true and so mature that it makes almost every other film in existence look like unimportant entertainment. This is the real deal; a film in which everything is straight out of the world we know, where people talk about food, relationships, philosophy, the importance of life—and where a conversation can actually span a long time. Richard Linklater has made a film that consists mostly of conversations, and like most of his previous work, it's much more exciting than most action films can ever be.
Like a painting in which lush colours intertwine in patterns, 'Before Midnight' is a piece of art. The film is so shockingly authentic that we forget we are looking at two actors portraying two characters. We meet Jesse and Celine, now for the third time and eighteen years after they first met. They are now in a relationship and have been for years. They have two twin girls, and are on a holiday trip to Greece. The environment is almost painfully beautiful at times, as the glowing sun overlooks the colourful Greek hills, and the breathtaking city architecture burns up your sight of sheer amazement.
While 'Before Sunrise' and 'Before Sunset', the two first films in the trilogy, were more about universal themes like young love and personality, the third installment is much more mature and consequential. The central characters have matured and are now real adult figures, and are forced to look back and reflect on their lives. What would life be like, if they hadn't met? What missteps have they taken? Do they even know? Like real people they now face problems about life and love that every couple have or will sometime have—and the solutions are not always easy.
The film is set almost entirely in real time and consists of roughly six or seven sequences. Mostly shot in remarkably long takes like its predecessors, the story moves along with a smooth pace. Boredom and fatigue are out of question. The dialogue is so fresh and authentic it sometimes feels improvised, which is such a blissful aspect of these kind of movies. It's the brilliance of the screenplay that translates so greatly from page to screen; it's so perfectly structured, and yet it still has elements of surprise, and nothing just "goes by the books". It's like a blessing—that one red flower in a field of grey ones.
Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are both virtuoso as Jesse and Celine. They endure the challenge of portraying characters so far from caricatures and so close to our understanding of real people, and they do it flawlessly. The two can walk along a road and talk about their lives, or just smalltalk on a car ride, and we are never able to put a finger on the way they speak. One second they argue aggressively, the next they pause mid-sentence. This is how people talk. It’s almost too perfect to be true, but that's how this film is structured. Hawke and Delpy co-wrote the screenplay and created many features of their characters themselves—it's clear that they know and breathe as these people.
A lot of the greatness does in fact come from the screenplay, which is absolutely one of the best of the year. At no point is there a line or a situation that feels forced or dull in any way, every word is uttered convincingly. One of the most beautiful things about a comedic drama feature is how it conveys humour and emotion, and 'Before Midnight' delivers consistent laughs, none of which are cheap, and will touch even the most macho of men. The third act, which is pretty much one lengthy hotel room scene, is one of the most brilliantly written and undeniably unsettling scenes in recent history.
The film is not just dramaturgically masterful; it's also technically excellent. Christos Voudouris' camera is always present as the fly on the wall, behind or in front the characters as they walk down a road, or simply overlooking the location in which the characters are residing. There is a specific scene in which some characters are playing football outside, and the camera deftly moves around the small yard. It's mesmerizing to look at.
I am so glad that films like 'Before Midnight' still get made. In an age where almost everything is buried in special effects, and the film industry is a business more than an art forme, it's so incredibly refreshing to see real filmmakers with care for the subject go and make a film so important. This is sole proof that a big budget doesn't translate in quality, and small, independant films can be as insightful as any other film. The true quality of films lies not in the money, but in the hands of the filmmakers.
# Bertram Julius Krogh