15 November 2013 | secondtake
The three films together are stunning! But this is the least of them
Before Midnight (2013)
The most interesting facet to this slim movie is that it continues the singular predecessors with such glowing continuity. Most people know that Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke started their conversational fictional companionship on film with "Before Sunrise" and then continued it with "Before Sunset." The first of these was shot in 1995, and the next followup was nine years later, and then this new one, nine years more.
If you saw (and liked) the first two films as I did, this continuance alone makes "Before Midnight" worth checking out. And if there is a huge deadening flaw here it is simply that the continuing continues so expectedly. There are times here when this couple—which has been living together for nearly a decade—talk as though they are on that first date in 1995. It's not that they don't know certain things about each other, but more that they are talking about things as if for the first time--and they are such common things. Surely they've gotten around to some of this stuff before. It's not endlessly revelatory.
The director of all three films is Richard Linklater, and he absolutely gets a lot of the credit for an easy, almost languid style. Some would call it boring—all talk and walk, nothing much to watch. But it isn't boring. The first movie for sure is the most fresh (it was the first one), but the second keeps things really interesting because the two leads (Jesse and Celine) are meeting up again after a huge gap, and it's an odd and unpredictable situation. By 2013 things have fundamentally solidified. They are a happy couple with twin girls, living in France. The day proceeds with conversation, and we listen closely (there is nothing else to do), but in fact there is nothing to be surprised or even curious about.
So the words become so critical they can't help but fail. A long dinner conversation with a group of educated friends is fast paced and filled with clever banter, but it goes nowhere. Yes, you absolutely wish you were there (and maybe that you had such friends—that would depend). But what is said is not so wonderful after all. It's just a mood of warm, lively companionship.
Likewise elsewhere. It's all fun and clever. When they squabble a bit it never seems remotely possible that the fight is for real, or that the incredible ease and love shown earlier in the movie would unravel with a slight ill wind. The very last scene confirms, and is oddly wan.
So—a mixed bag. I truly think if you haven't seen these films you might find the style and the remarkable believability (at times) really special. It is. But for me it was more special and more interesting as a story in the earlier movies. This one can now not be separated from those, however, and the great whole, a trilogy with a possibility of more to come, is a special and worthy part of contemporary cinema. Start somewhere and see what this is all about.