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Before Midnight

Sometimes things happen for a reason. And that Vienna-bound train where Celine and Jesse met 18 years ago in Before Sunrise is testament to that. Keeping us up to date every nine years with their burgeoning relationship is kind of Richard Linklater’s thing and this time we find the pair holidaying in the picturesque region of Peloponnese, Greece, where more walking and talking is of course going to be on the cards. And like its predecessors, the film grounds itself in providing a thorough glimpse into a significant moment of one day in the protagonists’ lives, nine years on since their second meeting in Paris. The minimalist approach with its wit and charm is as refreshing as ever.

Celine and Jesse are now in their early forties and while enjoying a family holiday, complications arise. Both seem to be struggling with the demands placed on them and want what the other has. Celine, in her pursuit of fulfilling the role of a loving and inspiring mother struggles to find find time to develop her career. Jesse on the other hand seems to have the life of a successful writer down pat yet struggles to feel connected to his kin, while his complicated past love life still continues to resurface and cause decay.

Julie Delpy again is tantalisingly evocative. Her portrayal of Celine is excellent, as she presents a passionate, determined, free-thinking feminist who knows no bounds, yet still shows realistic flitters of insecurities and at times holds a certain distance in her relationship. Delpy’s performance paints a clear picture of the reality of the pressures and confusion that embody the task of motherhood. Celine’s imperfections in this regard exemplify the fact that not every woman can easily fit into this prescribed ‘perfect mother’ role; a role that society continues to expect women to fulfill and condemn them if they cannot.

And then we have Jesse. Ethan Hawke has been stirring hearts since way back in the early days of his career in Reality Bites and through his unabashed spontaneity in Before Sunrise. Jesse is equally as passionate as his counterpart and shows a juvenile romanticism – that he can still be a dreamer and humorously immature at heart. The couple’s mutual lack of understanding of one another is what causes the two to clash drastically.

Visually, the film is incredible. Selecting another European destination to place the duo in, the Peloponnese region is bountiful in spectacular seaside views, ancient ruins and old villas to fascinate the viewer alongside the witty banter.

The concept of sauntering along the streets and just genuinely engaging with one another is again brilliantly executed, and helps to exemplify the changes in both Jesse and Celine over the past eighteen years, proving that feelings, attitudes and aspirations are ephemeral.

Finding fault with this film is extremely difficult, as it yet again delivers impeccable performances and the nuanced manner in which it focuses on love, loss, aspiration, confusion, anger and suspicion are brilliantly explored. The beauty of this film lies not only in its simplicity but in the raw truth and insight it provides into relationships and the leading characters’ love. Despite the dubious feelings of the duo, the film never questions itself and the exploration of both the significance and impact of time and the ambiguity of life, while concurrently mastering both wonderful cinematography, acting and a brilliant script, holds the film high and aloft all the rom-com crap that Hollywood seems to chew up and spit back out nowadays.

Like most franchises, it’s always helpful to watch the earlier films in the series before embarking on the latest installment, and Before Midnight isn’t an exception. Yes, the banter between the two would still probably intrigue the novice viewer but the actual depth of the story and the swooning romance throughout the trajectory of their relationship won’t even come close to proper appreciation.

Castle Rock Entertainment has unsurprisingly renewed the franchise’s contract, so hopes for a fourth installment look positive. Yet the dismal prospect of another nine year wait to see how these two lovebirds fare compels me to induce myself in a nine year coma, just to ease the pain of waiting.

Lisa Healy

The author Lisa Healy

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