Aydan Nolan’s review published on Letterboxd:
Continuing the trend of immediately setting-up the atmosphere, the first scene of Before Midnight perfectly encapsulates the catalyst for a large element of the film which is Jesse's contemplation on his lack of presence in his son's formative years. A pretty good opening scene of him sending his son off, funnily enough is quite similar to his own departure with Celine in Before Sunrise actually, ending with him seeing her outside. The smile on my face when we see her leaning against that car waiting for him is almost indescribable. Also a quick sidenote, I think I'm gonna start noting down movies that use their opening scene in the way these films have done because it's so effective and very fucking tight.
The dialogue is what makes these films it’s pretty safe to say. Part of what is so incredible about them is their ability to be so gripping from that element alone and on top of that, the investment I have in them is almost completely from those interactions they have with each other. Straight away we jump back in with that great dialogue in a long take that were so great in Before Sunset during the car sequence. 14 fucking minutes and we’ve tackled Celine's career, Jesse’s thoughts on the situation with Hank and the idea of being with him as he continues to grow up, not stopping at the ruins for his daughters (which I find interesting symbolically considering he's discussing the possibility of moving across the world for his son but not stop where they easily could for his new family), Jesse's thoughts on himself as a father and the showstopper of Celine proclaiming "this is where it ends, this is how people start breaking up". Just about all of which circle back later in the film! 14 fucking minutes straight! I find that so creative, I think largely because it’s not like tight writing has never been achieved before, but rather the fact we are continuing with these characters in what is only a very brief window since the time we last saw them. It’s the fact the events we’ve seen previously are so important in their lives that we have familiar ground to contextually understand what they’re talking about. That about sums up the entire trilogy if I'm honest and we are only 20 minutes in.
I don't want to mess about as there's a lot to say, but that 10 minutes before lunch is a pretty solid introduction to their environment this time around and a glimpse into the supporting players that make this film so enjoyable. I've always liked the conversation Jesse has with Patrick and Stefanos about his books because it feels fairly overtly that they represent the Before films and I think that's pretty neat. But when we get to lunch, well it's easily one of the best sequences in the film and perhaps the trilogy for that matter. It’s where the cinematography is most active and it’s where we get a lot of visual themes complimenting the representations of the other couples and also the stories that are told throughout the time. By default we've got a contrast to a younger version of themselves in Anna and Achilleas and a parallel to the similarly aged couple, Ariadni and Stefanos who look much more appreciative, accepting and joyful together.
The way characters are framed, of course most notably Jesse and Celine who are often contrasted against the other couples and then individually is pretty significant to me. The way the editing plays with their reactions to comments others have said is a representation for that saying "a picture is worth a thousand words". The way their photographed in a constant two shot during Natalia's dialogue, even when they're not the focus is quite poignant and another of those visual hints or whatever that would lead me into an optimistic ending. It’s quite subtle but it’s there and when you notice it, the dialogue becomes more impactful and the entire lunch scene is an example of that. Patrick's little anecdote about accepting Jesse was a writer when he realized Celine is his partner. The mirroring of how Anna and Achilleas met and that mirroring how Jesse and Celine met and the fractured telling of their reuniting in Paris. Discussing humanity and it's state before technology and guessing it's affect on the future and relationships and the way we communicate.
The difference in biology and the difference in how men and women think and act and that leading into Anna's story about friendships and work being the most important things in life with the advice to not get consumed by romantic love. Patrick's explanation of his relationship with his late wife who he described as two parts of a whole - "we were never one person, always two" which Stefanos and Ariadne then comment on the system in which their relationship thrives on. And finally Natalia discussing the relationship she had with her husband and the impact of his loss on her, an introspective of love and loss from someone who has been through it all, which is an amazing mic drop in a film that is full of them. There's so much to break down in that 17 minutes but all of those topics come right back to Jesse and Celine and the way the current state of their relationship is framed up against those in the scene that we see and hear. Natalia's final quote is an absolute showstopper and might be the single best representation for the Before trilogy: "he appears and he disappears like a sunrise or sunset, anything so ephemeral. Just like our life - we appear and we disappear and we are so important to some, but, we are just passing through".
It's wild how perfect Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are in these roles and it's a supreme understatement to say I couldn't imagine any other actors as these characters. They are great in each entry as Jesse and Celine and it is stupendous how superb their chemistry is. It didn't matter when they were strangers in Vienna, it didn't matter when they reunite in Paris a decade later and it definitely doesn't matter if there are a number of issues in their lives, their ability to express a spiritual connection, as if they've known each other for a lifetime is phenomenal. Just the way they convey their thoughts through their body language and their expressions and the ease in which they communicate.
Their performances have consistently been great, but are the best by far in Before Midnight and that's largely due to the layered characterization of our aged characters and the complex relationship they have. There's a lot going on in all these films but this is where I feel Hawke and Delpy get to play around the most and because of that it's where they prosper. I love the structure of these films, as the first mixes in those secondary players, the second is very primarily focused on them both and finally we return to the use of supporting characters. It feels super organic and wildly deliberate to use other characters to help shape the perspective of Jesse and Celine respective to what the film is attempting to portray. The first is an attempt to display how magical that one night together is, Sunset features very few because in that film they are our only focus and their reuniting is what is most important and of course Midnight like I mentioned which uses them to frame that stage of their lives and their love against couples at those different stages. I think that decision is nothing short of an absolute masterstroke. Hawke and Delpy's acting crescendos here with two of the best performances ever and particularly the entire time in the hotel which I'd specifically consider some of the best acting of all-time.
I need to mention the locations for this series which have all been spectacular, as both a visual backdrop and a symbolic representation. Like I mentioned in Before Sunrise, the curiosity of the unknown is something that entices us and of course the two main characters, and in each film there's something new to explore. In Sunrise, neither know where they are and where to go. In Sunset, only Celine knows where she's going and the way around this place. And finally in this film both of these guys know where they're at and what direction to head in. I think this is partially why, despite how brutal that ending is I maintain a bit of hope for them, because like these locations it's not until Greece that they are both of the same footing. Geographically and mentally, it's not until this film that they know each other and what they want from each other and I think it represents their ability to persist together. They already did when they were in the dark and despite it all at least this time they know where they're going and can do it with full confidence. Maybe that's wishful thinking or naivety but there's a reason she got off the train and there's a reason he missed his flight and I choose to believe this film is a window into their lives that is displaying the rockiness of a relationship rather than a separation.
Thematically it's rich with a lot of love related themes but also themes well beyond my comprehension about philosophical ideas that represent life and things that describe themselves or their paths or destiny or whatever else it may be. Before Sunrise features quite a bit of that and if I'm honest there's a decent amount that I'm still attempting to understand. Midnight being the most mature in that sense is very difficult to completely comprehend largely (I think) because I can't relate specifically to the situation they're in. Jesse and Celine's walk into the hotel and of course once they finally get into their room makes up just about the entirety of the rest of the film - something like 48 minutes in total and is stuffed with layers of subtext that is quite difficult to analyze when I'm essentially hypnotized by the performances and their dialogue. Their discussion in the car and at lunch and the final half of the film circulate inside the same atmosphere in regards to context but underneath is where there's so much to take in and I don't doubt I've barely scratched the surface of thematic content Midnight specifically and the entire trilogy as a whole has to offer.
For me this is easily the most emotionally impactful and resonant. The most honest film of the 3 and probably a lock for top 10 I’ve seen ever. It’s no misconception that this film (for the most part) isn't as loved or dubbed the weaker of the bunch because of that aspect and I get it. The first two are so eloquent and honest in their own right in their portrayal of two people's genuine connection and the third is such a stark contrast to that connection, this one so clearly weathered by their work and personal lives invading their feelings towards each other. It’s so heartbreaking to me watching this film and it really hurts to watch these characters I love with all my heart hurt each other when all I want most is their happiness with no additional baggage. Their performances are so real and believable that their comments towards each other hurts on an unprecedented level. We've seen their spectacular rise and to go from that to such an honest portrayal of two people who were once inseparable now slowly drifting apart is nothing short of heartbreaking. It’s honest, raw and at times completely excruciating. But that’s what makes this film.
Realisticness isn’t a foreign subject to these films but on this level it’s unprecedented. Every time I watch it I’m mesmerized by their comments towards each other, both trying to understand the history of their lives and in their decision making and mind states in that moment in the scene. But amongst all of that doubt and sadness represented through these characters I can’t deny that it leaves me with a sense of happiness. The same charm and wit that once won Celine’s heart is what we are left with and it gives me hope. I don’t know what would happen and unlike Sunrise and Sunset I can't say it’s one of those things I like to think about. For all we know there’s another film coming but I kinda hope that’s not the case. It’s an incredible portrait of love and one of the most sincere portrayals of it I’ve ever seen. It goes without saying if there is a fourth film I would be there first session on opening day but I question the necessity for it. There’s so much to take from the specific points of their lives already and I am 99.9% sure they won't ever not leave me emotional. Each one ripe with a multitude of aspects to respect and be immersed in and it's something I know for a fact will only get better as I age with them.
It's unbelievable how highly I had regarded this film and the trilogy before seeing this in a cinema but it pales in comparison to how I feel about it now. I've said it time and time before but the best movies reward repeat viewings and without skipping a beat I'm left with something new to value or what I'd previously loved, I do so 10x more. It was an amazing and incredibly special experience to watch all these with an audience and despite being surrounded by strangers each time, these rewatches have felt more personal and far more intimate than previously. I have absolutely 0 reserves about calling the Before films the single best trilogy of all-time and it's ability to leave me with such an emotional impact every single time is one of the most valuable things cinema has to offer.