March Issue 2013
The winning combination of Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke is back with another film, and this third instalment is the best one yet. In a year that is densely packed with sequels, it’s hard to imagine that any other franchise will surpass this trilogy of romantic drama.
Before Midnight is the culmination of a storyline that started with Before Sunrise (1995) and progressed with Before Sunset (2004). With all three collaborating on the script, Linklater’s treatment of the material is no different to the earlier films: there are heated discussions, stimulating philosophical musings, long walks and lots of love. It’s just that one can relate to Before Midnight a tad more than the other two — here, romantic fantasy gets replaced by domestic reality.
It has been nine years since we last saw our protagonists; back then, they were on the verge of committing infidelity in CÃ©line’s Paris apartment. It was strongly hinted that Jesse might miss his flight and stay back with CÃ©line instead of returning to a loveless marriage. In Before Midnight, we find out straightaway that the by now middle-aged couple have indeed remained together and had twins. They are vacationing in Greece and we are sucked into their world with a brilliant long take of a car ride, where we are not only reacquainted with these characters but also get insights about their parenting skills and renewed relationship.
Before Midnight has two things going for it: its witty dialogue and convincing performances. The last act in particular, where the two characters have a nasty row, elicits raw emotions from both actors. Hawke is both loveable and sarcastic, whereas Delpy, with that inimitable accent, is fierce but natural. The setting of Greece acts as a wonderful metaphor for their marriage, which is on the rocks too; the scenery is beautiful, but look closely and it’s not all that perfect. It’s an innovative way to frame the battle of the sexes.
Celebrating the film’s international premiere at the Berlin Film Festival in February, Linklater was not sure if the story would be taken forward beyond this installment. But for now, Before Midnight should be taken for what it is — an unpretentious piece of romantic/comic/dramatic cinema, which hopeless romantics as well as extreme cynics will enjoy.
Schayan Riaz is a film critic based in Germany