Ethan Hawke as Jesse
Julie Delpy as Celine
Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick as Hank
Ariane Labed as Anna
Athina Rachel Tsangari as Ariadni
Xenia Kalogeropoulou as Natalia
Walter Lassally as Patrick
Charlotte Prior as Nina
Jennifer Prior as Ella
The first time we met Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) they were a pair of twenty-somethings wandering around Venice, not sure yet what they wanted in life or if they were prepared for the commitments of maturity. When last we left them, they were thirty-somethings beginning to sense the passing of time and the regret which goes along with that.
It’s nine years further on from then and writer-director Richard Linklater (“Bernie”) has returned to two of his most vibrantly drawn characters as they enter their forties – older, maybe wiser, vacationing in Greece for the summer with their famiy.
A fictional counterpart to Michael Apted’s “Up” series, Linklater’s “Before” films offer a rare chance to explore our thoughts and feelings as adults through different ages of our lives in nearly real time. Not just through the growth of the characters, but also of the man directing them, who has roughly been the same age as his characters at each stop and through them reveals himself and his view on life to us as well.
Like any good sequel (and it is a very good sequel), on the surface “Before Midnight” is very much like that which has gone before. Once again we spend a day wandering with Jesse and Celine in nearly real time, learning what has transpired between them while we’ve been gone, eavesdropping on their conversations as they gradually reveal more and more of their inner thoughts.
“Before Midnight” also twists and turns as it needs to, offering the unexpected and refusing to be the same as what came before.
Instead of a chance meeting creating and rekindling a love affair, Jesse and Celine have moved on to real life. Jesse has gotten divorced from his first wife and had twin daughters with Celine. They have moved from romantic love affair to the reality of what comes with ‘happily ever after’ and like all real people must struggle day to day with what that means.
Without the ticking clock of the previous two films, “Before Midnight” is a bit more open, bouncing from airport goodbyes at the start to a dinner party and a long walk through coastal Greece. It is a quiet tour de force of a film with takes so long and is so complex, the reality of shooting them must have been mind-boggling, starting with a 13-minute unbroken car ride from the airport.
And yet we never notice, because we’re so engrossed in what Jesse and Celine are experiencing. Hawke and Delpy have truly grown into these roles, which are still the best work they have ever done. That is particularly evident here as they are able to plumb real emotional depth and damage in the way only two people who know each other very well over a long period of time could. Anyone who has been in a long relationship with another person will see themselves in “Before Midnight.” And they will squirm uncomfortably when the big questions start coming out like, “do we have what it takes to stay together forever?”
A grown up, mature work in every sense of the phrase, “Before Midnight” is that rare sequel among sequels – the one which continues to better than which has come before it.