Before Midnight

Before Midnight ★★★★★

When Richard Linklater followed "Before Sunrise" with "Before Sunset" I held my breath. Could he and his actors, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy recapture something so sweet and so apparently transient as that long walk through Vienna together? I needn't have worried; meeting them again years later in a thoroughly romantic Paris was like meeting up with two old friends. They weren't together but were obviously in love, (yes, with each other), so we willed them to try to make a go of it even if by this stage Hawkes' character, Jesse, was turning into something of a conceited boor. It was a lovely film, even better than the first with pitch-perfect performances and superlatively written and directed.

Now comes "Before Midnight" or part three in the, as now, 'Before Trilogy' and the question is, can they do it again? What's left? Would this be Linklater's "Scenes from a Marriage", all angst and vitriol? Would we want to spend another day in their company? Again I needn't have worried. Jesse and Delpy's Celine did stay together and have twin girls and are now spending the summer at a writer's commune in Greece, (so we know we are going to get pretty pictures if nothing else), presided over by an old English author called Patrick, (a terrific turn by former DoP Walter Lassally). Jesse is now 41 but he still hasn't grown up. He behaves like a super-smart over-aged teenager but Hawkes is so amazingly good it no longer matters. I can't imagine another actor growing into a role in the way that Hawkes has done. He isn't someone I'd want to spend time with in real life but he's just about perfect company for a two hour movie.
Delpy's Celine has always been the more likable, more approachable character although again her intelligence works against her. I've always found there's more intellect than emotion with Celine. Again she isn't necessarily someone I'd want to spend time with but she makes for a wonderful movie heroine.

So how good is "Before Midnight"? Could it, I asked myself, improve on "Before Sunset"? Well, the answer is a resounding yes; indeed this is Linklater's masterpiece, the most intelligent romantic drama in decades. It's still basically a long conversation or at least a few long conversations as Linklater and fellow writers and actors Hawke and Delpy have opened things up a tad. Jesse and Celine are no longer the only characters to hold our attention. There are three other couples at the writer's commune and during a long, beautifully written and acted, (and directed), dinner sequence we get to know all of them and they all make for wonderful company. This dinner sequence is so terrific, in fact, I half wished it could go on for the rest of the movie but no, Jesse and Celine still have a lot to talk about and talk they do but, as with the first two films, we never tire of listening to what they have to say however self-indulgent they might appear. Before "Before Midnight" I wondered if I would want to meet them again. Now I pray Linklater, Hawkes and Delpy resurrect them again in another 10 years or sooner; they now feel like part of my family.