Consider this review tremendously biased – Richard Linklater’s walking-and-talking Euro diptych Before Sunrise and Before Sunset have given me far more insight about relationships and the unknowable nature of romanticism than many hundred-fold movies ever committed to the history of celluloid. This duology built around what is mainly a string of conversations between two trans-Atlantic lovers as they saunter around two of Europe’s gorgeous cities, Vienna at first and then in Paris nine years later, transcended the romantic travelogue movie and turned it into witty, withering, microscopically perceptive and ebullient dissection of life’s many enigmas – love, mortality, time, fear, dreams, human connections. And it helps that both films are very, unabashedly romantic, simply because Jessie and Celine’s chance meetings are ephemeral, with time quickly turning their brief encounters into transient moments in their own premeditated history.Before Midnight, the third and possibly the last in Linklater’s saga of Jessie and Celine’s affair, not only provides an emotionally and intellectually satisfying capper to the Before trilogy but also betters the two predecessors by its maturity, wisdom and its sheer precision in scalpelling wide open the blisters of long-term commitment and consequences of romantic love. Where it loses the urgency of the previous two films where Jessie needed to catch two planes back to America, it makes up for a more realistic portrayal of the couple’s present status quo, one which is very different to the future they’ve dreamt almost two decades ago. Here, the realities of life have sagged heavily on this relationship – a previous broken marriage, a disconnected son, conjugal quibbles, past resentments and present responsibilities that all boil down to a tragedy looming in the horizon. This time set in a quiet corner tucked away in the Peloponnese island, with the couple spending the last gasp of their holiday under the host of a Greek novelist. The backdrop of bohemian cities have always served as moveable feasts to the lovers’ banquet, but here Linklater locates them in an almost idyllic, pastoral setting, pitting them with nature and the ancient ruins that scatter around them. Time has always been love’s enemy, and it eats away the edges of Jessie and Celine’s relationship. Moving through five key scenes with such eloquence and elegance, commencing in an airport to a super-long take in a car journey (which owes much to Abbas Kiarostami’s masterpiece Certified Copy), then to an al fresco lunch with Jessie’s contemporaries wonderfully discussing topics of sex, politics and life’s foibles to a signature stroll along the beach, all giving way to a tour-de-force battle of strong wills that takes place largely inside a hotel room. This scene itself is coup de cinema – demonstrating the power of a sharply written screenplay, a collaboration between Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy as they did Before Sunset, maniacally turning a sweet refuge into a scabrous, vicious verbal-sparring arena that would exhaust any adept wordsmith. It harks back to Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes of a Marriage, but only more ferocious and hilarious, with every laughter to be had is razor-sliced with caustic bitterness propelled by Jessie’s paternal torment of being a perpetual absentee in his son’s years, and Celine seeing this is as a validation of his selfishness and possession. Celine’s fraught tirade about emotions vs rationality that ends up with her hysterical argument about Final Solution is in itself a sight to behold. Scatological as the scene is, it conveys so much power especially in its precision in laying bare middle-age issues this couple both face, knowing that the halcyon fantasy they have once imagined 18 years ago has hit the real world and two people committing to love is really goddamn hard.
DIRECTOR: Richard Linklater | CAST : Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick | SCREENPLAY: Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke | PRODUCER: Sony Pictures Classics | RUNNING-TIME: 143 mins | GENRE: Sci-fi/Action | COUNTRY: USA