Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Before Midnight Movie Review

Roger Ebert talked about coming back to Fellini's 8 1/2 about every decade and having a very different reaction to and feelings about Guido each time. Obviously the character hadn't changed, but Roger had. So as he matured, so did his perception of the film. It's in a somewhat similar vein that I have found myself approaching what Richard Linklater (and also Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, who are equal collaborators in the story and screenplay process) has done with the Before Sunrise triolgy. That first film was a big deal for my high school friends when it came out, though I skipped it at the time. I caught up with it finally before its sequel Before Sunset was released. I admired Before Sunrise, but I was enamored with Before Sunset. Now that I've seen the most recent installment, Before Midnight, which is nine years after the last film and eighteen after Jesse and Celine first met on a Vienna train, I can say I love it even more. But then I wonder if my expanding admiration for this series has more to do with the way I've changed along with Jesse and Celine over the years.

Before Sunset left some ambiguity as to what would happen with the two. Would Jesse (Hawke) miss his plane and stay with Celine (Delpy)? Would he divorce his wife and leave his son to be with his idealized version of true love? Now we learn they did get together, they have twin daughters, and they live in Paris. Although as we meet them they are on holiday in southern Greece. Jesse's son Henry, now a teenager entering high school, lives with his mom in Chicago, but is just leaving after having spent the summer with his dad.

This film breaks from the format and pattern a little bit in that we get to see Jesse and Celine involved and interacting with people outside themselves. Previously we've only seen them in extended conversation with each other, breaking only to order a coffee or ask a taxi driver something. Now they have the chance to listen to others for once. It's also key that they have been a couple for nine years. The first two films were very romantic propositions: boy and girl meet on a train, he asks her to hop off and spend the night wandering the streets of Vienna with him and they fall in love; boy and girl get the chance to meet again nine years later and lament that they didn't exchange addresses and failed to meet up six months later like they'd planned, but a connection stirs and the end strongly hints that something might happen. Now it's the romance of how a long term relationship functions. There's still a whole lot of talk, talk, talk, but it's easily divided into distinct scenes, any one of which could stand on its own as a one-act.

First there's a long car ride after dropping Henry off at the airport. They discuss Celine's new job prospect and Jesse's feelings over not being present sufficiently in his son's life. Then there are several scattered moments followed by a truly beautiful dinner scene between a large group of friends all spending their summer vacation together. It's a scene of different generations of people talking about romance and relationships with comparisons between the ways the young and the old differ in their approaches and expectations. The big climactic scene takes place in a hotel room, a little romantic evening gifted to Jesse and Celine. Unfortunately they wind up in a long fight that reveals lots of petty jealousies, insecurities, and animosities, none of which actually contributes to making their relationship any better.

It shares with the first two films a passion for the spoken word. Movies don't often afford character the opportunity to really tell stories. Normally we get truncated chunks in order to maintain a pleasing running time. But being around Jesse and Celine and their friends is like being around your own friends and it's a really good time. I enjoyed listening to their stories and their opinions and their passions. That dinner scene was like a meal I would love to be invited to with people I know. I just sat back enthralled by what the characters had to contribute.

The dinner scene is truly great, but the fight, which extends for about thirty minutes of screen time, is the kind of cinematic gold you never see. The whole thing is much closer to the artistic medium of theater than to cinema because rarely in film does a writer or a director get the chance to present an extended argument the way these things happen in reality. The whole thing taken together has several ups and downs, moments that look like an understanding has been reached and they can get back to their evening alone. But then one of them tries to get the last word in and they're off and running again until one of them drops a bomb on the proceedings. It's a pronouncement that is devastating if true. But then they come together one last time and a glimmer of hope is revealed. The final note is still one of ambiguity and uncertainty. We know how this night will finish, but beyond that it's hard to say.

It's impossible to know if these three artists will still be working in a decade or if they would still have the desire to revisit these characters. The beauty of this trilogy (as it stands now) is that not only does each film work as a stand alone feature, but there has been no intention in the moment to come back in the future. Maybe they will and maybe they won't. Either way, the story of Jesse and Celine is both complete and not. Therin lies part of the appeal of their time together and the windows they've allowed us to spy through over the years.

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