News Column

Love beyond passion ; The third chapter of Celine and Jesse shows how their romance has matured.

June 14, 2013



"Before Midnight" is the third film in what must be one of the most unlikely, and welcome, trilogies in film history.

With 1995's "Before Sunrise" and 2004's "Before Sunset," we saw what we believed to be the dawn and the dusk of an unusual relationship between Jesse and Celine. These bookends saw two romantics walking the streets of two of the world's most glorious cities, Vienna in the first and Paris in the second, and talking.

Their relationship is built on talking. So are the movies.

The talk in the first film is that of an American backpacking around Europe (Ethan Hawke as Jesse) and a French grad student as the two meet on a train to Vienna before departing at daybreak.

Their ongoing discussion in the second film takes place nine years later. The subject? Jesse has written a novel, and a book tour has brought him to Paris to discuss his tale - that of two strangers meeting on a train to Vienna.

In "Before Midnight," another nine years has passed as we reconnect with Celine and Jesse in this grand experiment in which Delpy and Hawke have collaborated on the screenplays with director Richard Linklater.

The three make a formidable team, offering a summer film that hasn't been test-marketed or formulated by a studio head, but rather allowed to grow organically and become something both personal and original.

We pick the pair up in Greece. It is nearly two decades since they first met, and they are together. There are entanglements and responsibilities: Jesse is seen sending his teen son back home on a plane to his mother in the U.S., and Celine and Jesse have two children of their own.

We've moved beyond the romance burning bright in their 20s and 30s and now see these two fully realized in their 40s. As in the first two films, it is remarkable how enthralling it can be to watch a movie in which there is almost no plot and almost nothing happens from an action perspective.

That would be if you refer to "nothing" as the natural maturation of a love and a partnership that feels as authentic as anything put on film, but in a relatable manner considering some of the subjects: his custody issues, her job, their kids, whether to stay in Europe or move to the U.S.

Yes, there remains those moments they have to themselves, with their literate discussions about life and love and movies and books. But complications make their lives so much more dependent and extended, and the discussions have matured. As Jesse tells Celine, their talks about hopes and dreams have graduated to this: "This is real life. It's not perfect, but it's real."

Such authenticity colors their dinner at a gorgeous rock villa with friends, consuming Greek cuisine and telling stories about art and culture, masculinity and femininity, and much more.

Just as real is their later meta argument that invades Celine and Jesse's planned night of romance, with any longtime couple recognizing discussion-samples including "You started this ..." and "Here we go ..." and "Do you ever listen to yourself?"

They talk, and it's real, and despite some repetition in these debates, these words are just as vital as those from prior films.

The loving words mix with the personal attacks, the magic moments with the unintended slights, as we witness the occasional desperation of imperfect people doing the best they can when life moves beyond meet-cute and courtship.

This is a marvelous dialogue on the modern couple between people whom some moviegoers have come to know as friends they would like to have dinner with rather than merely as characters on the screen. That hasn't changed, despite their being in their 40s and this being the darkest movie in the collection.

They remain smart and witty and vulnerable, speaking words that cut close to the bone and feel improvised when needed and disarmingly honest.

"Before Midnight" feels real to those who would follow Celine and Jesse anywhere, and who await 2022.

Michael Smith 918-581-8479

Originally published by MICHAEL SMITH World Scene Writer.

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