|More peripatetic love in Richard Linklater's Before Midnight.|
«««1/2 Before Midnight. Written by Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy & Ethan Hawke. Directed by Richard Linklater. At selected theaters.
It's been 18 years since Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) spent that night wandering Vienna in Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise, talking and flirting and falling in love. Their yak-fest wasn't everyone's cup of tea, but for many of us that film hit the sweet spot between intelligence, erotic possibility, and wistfulness. Because of that, or perhaps because it prefigured the current "hook-up" culture, Sunrise became one of the touchstone films of its time. It's not universally nameable, to be sure, but it's one everybody seems to remember ("You know, that movie where the guy talks the girl into getting off a train with him? Yeah, that one…")
The trio continued Jesse and Celine's story in 2004's Before Sunset, reuniting them after circumstances prevented them from redeeming the promise of their one night together. Jesse was in Paris promoting a book he wrote on that experience; Celine showed up to get her copy signed. The result was another dance of postponed desire, picking up pretty much where it left off nine years before. Except that there was no vague promises to meet up again in the future: Jesse, married to someone else but smitten as ever with the mercurial Celine, impulsively skipped his plane home.
Now we have Before Midnight and what feels like the final installment in the couple's story. Almost a decade later, they're now married, with twin daughters. Jesse has moved to Europe, but is feeling remorse for his intermittent relationship with the son (Seamus Davey-Kirkpatrick) he left behind. Celine, feeling "fat and forty", is lovely as ever and every bit as talented at thinking her way out of happiness. Approaching the end of an idyllic summer-long vacation in Greece, the consequences of Jesse missing his plane nine years before have returned with a vengeance. For, as Linklater shows, while it's all well and good to make sacrifices for the sake of love, sacrifice is rarely just a "one and done" thing. It keeps having effects that demand fresh sacrifices.
Delpy and Hawke's names are on the screenplay for good reason: most of this film (and the other two) are dialog, and the words need to fit the mouths that say them. Once again, Linklater and his stars have crafted what amounts to a concerto for two instruments, by turns harmonious, discordant, and funny. In Sunrise their by-play was a dorm-room discourse, the problems more theoretical than real. Here, Linklater, Delpy and Hawke adeptly recapture the couple's characteristic rhythm while making their problems deeper, more urgent. "Sometimes I think I'm breathing oxygen and you're breathing helium," Celine complain of Jesse's way of deflecting her frets with humor. "What makes you say that?" he replies in a put-on falsetto. She's simultaneously charmed and exasperated.
To cop a line, the problems of two people don't amount to a hill of beans in a world of super-heroes and giant, rampaging monsters. Or maybe those are the only kinds of problems that really matter. In this case of Jesse and Celine, another sequel ("After Midnight?") sounds like a good way to find out.
© 2013 Nicholas Nicastro