Before Midnight

Before Midnight ★★★★★

"Still there. Still there. Still there. Gone."

Over the last week and a half Jesse and Celine have been on my mind. Their relationship has spanned nearly two decades and three films and at this point it feels like watching family or friends on the big screen. Rewatching the previous two leading up to the third installment, probably the lowest budgeted threequel ever, was incredibly rewarding, although it elevated my anticipation to a dangerously high level. Expectations can ruin a film experience (even if the film itself is successful) so when I sat down to take in the latest addition to the Before series, my insides were a jumble of nerves. But despite all the pressure Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy must have felt, being tasked to follow up two near perfect portraits of onscreen romance, Before Midnight put to rest all doubt in the opening moments and by the time the credits began it had officially supplanted all other trilogies as a masterpiece of filmmaking and storytelling, an epic portrayal of possibly film's greatest relationship put on screen.

As I foresee myself seeing this again and it being still so new in theaters, I'll avoid the specific details of the plot, though it's safe to say that Jesse and Celine walk and talk, they fight, they observe ancient architecture while reflecting on their lives, and it all takes place in one day. And the dialogue is as rich and authentic as ever, another master-class in screenwriting, aided by engrossing long takes in a car or along a pathway, the camera giving Hawke and Delpy room to breathe new life into old characters. Or older characters, the age showing on their faces, the way they walk, the wisdom they've gained, the series is a great example of how time transforms us not only physically but mentally and emotionally. There are certainly recognizable elements to the characters but in some cases they've been subdued and in others they've been escalated. And Hawke and Delpy deserve to be recognized for their performances come award time, as well as Linklater for his direction. Hawke is the standout this time around though, given much more to do than in Sunset certainly, while Delpy is as wonderful as ever.

The film is the funniest of the series but also the most painful and cathartic, especially for longtime fans, though it works for newcomers as well. Coming out of the theater I feel most people were viewing one of the two as the 'bad guy', the 'unreasonable' one, which I don't necessarily disagree with but I also don't see this as a flaw. Not only do I think there are more shades of grey when it comes to the blame, I also think it's a logical conclusion to the trajectory of their relationship mapped out in Sunrise and Sunset. And it saddens me to think that people will look at this portrait of a messy relationship between two complicated characters and feel the need to choose a side, as if we're Jesse and Celine's children forced to pick who we want to live with. I don't want to choose between them, I love these characters equally, flaws and irrationality and all, and when the 'rational' one, the 'reasonable' one, expresses their undying love even in the face of abject negativity and cynicism, why can't we do the same.

I'd like to take a moment to marvel at the accomplishment involved in making one of these films every nine years. I've never seen any of the Up series, wherein a documentary crew touches base with real people every seven years, but as ambitious as that project sounds I feel the level of difficulty here, being able to check in on such beloved characters, to capture their essence consistently, for the actors to reengage with Jesse and Celine after so much time away, I really feel it doesn't get the credit it deserves.

Before Midnight (spoilery review) is a beautiful film, equally hilarious and emotionally draining, wrapping up the trilogy perfectly while leaving room for future additions. Having said that, I struggle to say this is the best of the three, as each film, while being so similar, set out to achieve different goals. Each film works as a time capsule, a way to look back at an earlier time, an earlier age, though I don't think one needs to be in their twenties to enjoy Sunrise any more than you need to be in your forties to enjoy Midnight. And all due respect to Judd Apatow, but this is forty. This is also funny and heartbreaking and brilliant. And the best film of 2013 so far.

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