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Apr 27, 2014

Review: BEFORE MIDNIGHT (2013)

            Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, Jennifer Prior, Charlotte Prior, Xenia Kalogeropoulou, Walter Lassally, Ariane Labed, Yiannis Papadopoulos, Athina Rachel Tsangari and Panos Koronis

                    Richard Linklater

                  Richard Linklater's "Before Trilogy" is one of the best things that happened to American cinema in a long time. Before watching this film, I revisited the first two films, Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004) and it really reminded me of how great of a cinematic experiment it is and what it stands for. Artistic collaborations are always fruitful but they have never been this real, raw, hopeful, artistic and just natural. What started as a fairytale romance, a chance encounter between two young people, grew up into a romance that with all its ups and downs, always stood out as probably the most realistic representation of contemporary relationship of our time. Linklater has always experimented, using the indie filmmaking for always interesting purposes. If you look closely, he has made some really good films but more than that, it shows how much he is invested in not only the art of filmmaking but the art of telling stories through films that are not only grounded in reality but involve a certain sense of urgency as opposed to just standing out of the crowd. I should have reviewed the previous two films first but well, I can't now since there are many films left to review from 2013 and I just need to catch up with them so that I can move on.

                  I find it funny that with the notion of 'sequels' these days, we always associate films that are going to be less about expanding the stories and doing something greater to improve or amend things then to just make more money without doing much because people are going to run to the theaters for their beloved characters and visual effects. There isn't always Toy Story or Lord of the Rings you know. But when it comes to the indie trilogy of two people talking and reflecting back on their life, on love and romance as they grow old together, each film is not only better, expansive, more urgent than before but far more creative as well. Linklater and his two actors wait for 9 years to make their films. With every film, they grow up slightly more, they experience more life and the idea of romance is taken over by just being there and nothing more. That isn't to say that Before Midnight is a hopeless entry about two people who were never supposed to be together and are going to leave each other and die. The final sequence of the film, in its simplicity but immensely powerful idea left me with such a bittersweet feeling in my heart. You just have to be there for each other, life happens, life goes on, life messes up but what you always felt for each other will remain the same. If being with each other is what one strives for then to hell with the world and what life throws at you. Okay, now I should actually start talking about the film, no? Directed by Richard Linklater and written by both Linklater himself and the actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, Before Midnight follows our favorite couple, Jesse and Celine nine years after the conclusion of the previous film and eighteen years since they first met. They are still a couple and have twin girls now thanks to their second get-together. Jesse however has a teenage son, Hank from his previous marriage who lives in Chicago with his mom. The film begins with Jesse dropping his son off at the airport who was with them for summer on the Greek Peloponnese peninsula. It is clear how much Jesse loves his son and regrets not being there for him all the time. There are like only two sequences in the first 20 or so minutes. The airport scene and then the drive from airport with Celine and their two kids sleeping in the back of the car. That scene itself is a long take, divided into two by a small scene that shows the ruins there. The fluidity with which all of this happens is almost breathtaking. The ease and natural ambiance takes over immediately. It feels like meeting some old friends of yours, the people you have known so well over the years and the only difference being that their lives has changed a bit that is all. And you somehow relate to them. Doesn't matter if you aren't their age though.

                  Following the drive, we meet the people they are living with. Their Greek friend, Patrick and others. Women prepare the lunch while the men outside talk about their work. Of course, books and novels. The children are playing, we meet a very young couple and for a second, it's a deja vu moment. I mean for Jesse and Celine, it feels like seeing a part of them from the outside. On the lunch table we have a very young couple full of fresh ideas and different perspective on love and life. A middle-aged couple with kids and their stuff, which is where they are. And then the old couple and their take on love and life. Which is where our beloved couple are heading towards. The lunch scene is beautiful, these people talk as they eat quite naturally like normal people does. There is awkwardness, grace, vulgarity, romance and humor. The beautiful Greek scenery and these beautiful people. It is for once strange earlier on to see Celine working together with the women in the kitchen. We haven't seen her ever indulging in the mundane household chores or happenings. When the lunch ends, they are given a gift of sorts by these people. A hotel room for a night so they can spend some quality time together. While on their way, another long sequence of them talking about how they met and where they are right know. Recalling things about their past and what shaped them and all the what ifs and this and that. All of this time, never does on feel like checking their watches or stretching out a little. This couple should have been a bore by now but why does this still works and how? Celine and Jesse feel as fresh as ever, as lovely as ever and as 'a couple to die for' as they have always been. But wait for it, the time they spend in the hotel room is the time when I was almost on the verge of having a heart-attack. A small argument quickly turns into a vicious back and forth play of words, of disappointments and of 'you think this' and 'you mean that'. It is quite normal for them to suddenly feel hopeless about their future together and uncertain of where they are now and what exactly is going on in their lives. That 30 minutes sequence of endless arguments in the hotel room is one of the greatest film moments of all times for me. The entire film is written in such a way that it never feels like lines thought of or lines rehearsed but like genuine conversations between two people. The filmmaker and these two actors are by now, more assured than ever. They work together with far more nuance and depth and perhaps better understanding of what they are doing and what the characters feel and how they function. Before Midnight simultaneously raises questions about them, answers them subtly, breaks certain notions and reaffirms the meaning of life. Before Midnight breaks your heart and then fills it with hope, not a false hope but the one that makes sense for the characters and life in general.

                  Jesse at that point is still a very successful novelist, he has been writing well and living with the love of his life as he hoped for. Celine on the other hand is having troubles with her professional life. Perhaps not really been able to keep up a balance between her home with two kids and her environmental endeavors at the non-profits. A particular project backfired and now she has no option but to work for government. A compromising place for her, something that a bit more activist-minded woman cannot really go for. They are both complicated people to be really honest not just Celine. They aren't really your match made in heaven but then who actually is? Jesse is complicated when it comes to his notion of love and how he take that and the usual life hand in hand. Celine is more practical, she is capable of love and care but never at the cost of her own ambitions and theories. That is not to say that she is a robot or a heartless b**** that many thought of her specially during the long argument they have in the film but that she knows the difference between fantasy and reality. During the last scene of this film, Linklater beautifully pulls off the trick of not only reminding us why these two people met and got along in the first place or why they matter but really offers us how in reality, two people love, live and grow old together. Yes, there are fantasies involved. The concept of living happily ever after with that love of your life, falling for each other like a maniac in the beginning and then hoping and trying to keep the attraction alive and burning for the rest of your life is a hard think to do, almost impossible. Life itself is very practical, messy and complicated. They will constantly go through this, their relationship will be shaken in regular intervals but the only way they can survive that is by facing these things together and being there for each other. Unconditional love cannot be undone so easily, it may fade away for a while but it always remains there buried underneath. For Jesse, the regret of not being there for his son who is going through his formative years is a big thing. He suggests moving to USA as opposed to Europe where Celine herself can live her creative life in a more fulfilling way. For Celine, leaving this behind for the mundanity of just being a housewife or perhaps a working mother, an unambitious work and then looking after Jesse's son and seeing Jesse himself following his own creative path would be a big compromise. Jesse brings out the inner-feminist of Celine. Women are always supposed to make sacrifices for their home and husbands and that is something she wont take. These arguments are not one way. You hear both the sides, you understand both of them. They aren't right or wrong. Celine is a complicated soul to the very bone. Jesse understands his lack of true understanding for Celine even after so long. The joke that he makes at the end is truly what got her to do the unthinkable from her perspective in the first place, the reason they got together. Celine has always seen sincerity in Jesse and that is how she is still and will be only his.

                  Ethan Hawke gives possibly the best performance of his career in this film. As Jesse, he is now far more concerned about other things as well. That gives him a very heartbreaking arc in this film, a sort of edge. As a father, as a husband (lover to be precise) and as 'Jesse', he is honestly torn about what he should do and what should be done. Hawke seems more comfortable and truly wonderful in his depiction and his work. Jesse's ambitions and cries this time takes him out of his head and into the reality. When things seems crashing down, he resorts to just being himself all over again and that works. I was honestly touched by Hawke's portrayal this time and maybe it is Jesse himself and where he is now that truly brings out the best in Hawke as well. But wait... it is Julie Delpy who gives one of the best performances of the year in her truly magnetic and outstanding portrayal of Celine. A powerhouse performance, a precise and outlandish depiction and a tour de force as they say. Call it pessimism or envy, call it being real or being truly Celine. The troubling reality check that the failures of Celine's own ambitions bring is an alarming situation for her. She would never resort to anything and in all honesty, as great and nice as she is most of the time, Celine cannot really see Jesse being successful in every way as opposed to her. I call that being normal. I was truly blown away by what Delpy did here. She has been consistently good but well, this film gave her more scope to explore the messiness that her character posses in the face of life itself. Whether it is the humor or the seriousness, Delpy always shines here. Whether it is just normal conversations between her and Jesse, interactions between other people or when they are like actually fighting, Delpy always seems in control of every single act. I rank Delpy's performance alongside Blanchett, Exarchopoulos and Garcia as one of the best of 2013.

                  Finally talking about the creative force of the film, or forces perhaps, the trio deliver a masterful script. The writing in this film is just beyond greatness, one of the greatest screenplays ever written and best of the year alongside Spike Jonze's Her. The dialogues as much as spoken with honesty and ease, they are first written in a very organic and earthy way. The existential, philosophical or artistic banter to the conversations on life, love and relationship, they all seem to be breathing freely. Nothing seems false or pretentious, it all seems to come from within. The writing is astounding, it feels fresh and alive. All of the previous films have featured superb scripts and they always seem to create things. In simple conversations, so much is covered. We go along with them and it work wonders. Biting and sharp, intelligent and thought-provoking, with much needed humor and seriousness at the same time. The awes and wonders, the romance and the plights. Great storytelling and even greater way of capturing life through words. Words are words but they work beautifully. The power of words is greatly used here. Richard Linklater himself did an outstanding job in bringing this film to the screen. In bringing his dream to us, in creating these characters and achieving what he decided to. A filmmaking genius, a great human experimenter and a brilliant storyteller. Before Midnight is edited very greatly. The coming and goings of the moments, the passage of time (as limited as it always is in these films) and the stillness of the moment that these characters are experiencing. The film is also shot beautifully. Capturing the landscape, following the characters and focusing on them. Before Midnight might be darker reality check but it in its moments is far more humorous and effervescent than the previous films. As heartfelt and comforting as it is otherwise, in challenging our notion of this so-called perfect couple. It is emotionally shattering and engaging, it resonates with one on so many levels. There is greater sub-text to this and implications. The actors are amazing and their characters are as well. Before Midnight is not only the best film of the trilogy so far but one of the greatest films ever made. A triumph to be savored for ages.

Grade: A