Before Midnight (2013) is the final part of an extraordinary trilogy, directed by Richard Linklater and starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. For those who have watched the previous two films, Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004), it will feel as though you have grown and aged with the two central characters, Jesse and Celine. It’s a clever concept, brilliant exploited by Linklater and his team. Yet, for those lacking this background, Before Midnight also stands alone as a film about love, loyalty and commitment. In Before Sunrise, Parisian Celine and American Jesse are both 23 when they meet on a train travelling through Europe.
Jesse persuades his fellow passenger to disembark and spend the day with him in Vienna. They chat, laugh and fall in love. When it is time to part they promise to meet again in six months. In Before Sunset, nine years later, it transpires that they never met again. Jesse is now a successful author who based his first book on his encounter with Celine. Unexpectedly, she turns up at his reading in a Paris book store. Once more, the pair hit it off. The mutual attraction is evident and they cannot stop talking. But by the end of the film it is still ambiguous whether this love story will endure. Linklater wrote the original semi-autobiographical script with Kim Krizan.
In Before Midnight we fast forward another nine years. Series stars Delpy and Hawke have claimed ownership of the story and co-write with Linklater. Celine and Jesse are now an established couple, in their early forties, older and a little wiser, with two lovely twins. The family are holidaying in Greece courtesy of a fellow writer. In a poignant opening scene, Jesse is seeing off Hank (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick), his son from an earlier marriage, at the local airport. Jesse is on edge, his son is relaxed. After they hug goodbye, Jesse drives back with Celine and the twins to their holiday house. During the car journey, the cracks in their relationship begin to show, alongside the love they clearly have for one another.
Jesse is anxious that he is living apart from his first child in Paris and missing his son’s best years. He wants to be a better father. Celine is defensive and quick to point out that she does not want to move back to the States. Linklater’s long, uncut takes follow them as they share lunch with friends and wander through the countryside and local town to the hotel where their Greek friends have booked them a room. They’re supposed to enjoy a romantic last night in a luxurious suite. But Jesse and Celine can’t settle and a minor disagreement becomes a full blown row that threatens to tear them apart.
Before Midnight’s plot may not sound like the stuff of great cinema, but the actors are so immersed in their roles – established over the trilogy – that one cannot help but be drawn in. As they work through their differences, it’s as if one is eavesdropping on a couple – there’s drama, truth, poignancy and joy on display here. As Linklater knows all to well, it’s a potent, engrossing combination.