Before Midnight

Before Midnight ★★★★★

I first discovered Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise in 1997, and it ended up being such an important influence on the direction of my appreciation for cinema in general. I was 13 years old at the time and had seen very few films like it, and I was fascinated by every second. I had a feeling that my tastes would never be the same again. It has been 16 years since I first saw Jesse & Celine meet and spend an evening walking the streets of Paris, falling in love, and I still count them as two of my absolute favorite characters ever, even after seeing thousands of movies since. Being too young and naive to know what great American cinema was when I was only 11, I sadly missed the opportunity to see Before Sunrise during its theatrical run. However, by the time Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy decided to continue the story some nine years later with Before Sunset, you better believe I was waiting in line on opening night to see where they would take me.

The way they left these two characters in Before Sunset could have been a fine end to their beautifully romantic tale. Of course I won't speak about how the second film ends out of respect for those of you haven't seen it, but I will say that it will always rank as one of the greatest final shots of anything I have ever seen. I thought that was the final moment we'd ever get to from Jesse & Celine, and I was content with that. I was a little surprised at first when I heard that the trio had discreetly been filming a follow-up in Greece last fall, but it didn't take long for me to realize that this was in fact something they had to do. The creative triangle that forms between this writer/director & these fine actors is so fruitful that we now must almost count on hearing back from Jesse & Celine every nine years. Whatever happens from here on out, I'm just grateful that we have three films with them, and Before Midnight is the best of them all.

Hawke and Delpy are so engrossed in these characters at this point and have such a deep understanding of each other in reality, that they have fashioned the most outstanding performances of their careers in this third film. Once again we spend a day's time in their world, but in Before Midnight that world is entirely different from what we've seen before. Harsh realities of middle age approaching and the test of holding a family together and debating on the idea that being dedicated to one person for the rest of your life is possible, all of these things are now hovering above Jesse & Celine every single day. The screenplay drops us into the last night on their holiday with their twin daughters in Greece, and for the first time we see Jesse & Celine interact with groups of people before we are inevitably put into confrontational, intimate moments in the third act. It's all masterfully woven again, and this time by even more seasoned and knowing hands. They've all only gotten wiser as artists, and their collaborative triangle is stronger than ever.

At this very moment I'm having a tough time thinking of a better movie I've seen so far this decade. Astonishing filmmaking and acting in every regard.

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