Saturday 1 January 2022

Movie Review: Before Midnight (2013)

The second sequel in the series, Before Midnight picks up the story a further nine years after the events of Before Sunset. The lovers are now in mid-life territory, juggling life's accumulated baggage.

The setting is Greece, where Jesse and Céline (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) are completing a six week vacation. They have been together and living in Paris for nine years, and they have twin daughters. Céline is considering a new governmental job in environmental project approvals, while Jesse has published two more books. But he is increasingly frustrated that he is mostly absent from the life of his 14 year-old son Hank, who lives with Jesse's ex-wife in Chicago.

On the last day of the vacation, the couple spend the afternoon conversing with their host family and friends, before heading to a resort hotel for what is supposed to be a romantic evening. But Céline senses pressure from Jesse to give up her career and relocate to the US for them to be closer to Hank, igniting a raucous argument that exposes simmering rifts.

Again co-written by Hawke, Delpy and director Richard Linklater, Before Midnight shifts towards darker territory despite the scenic backdrop of the Greek Peloponnese peninsula. Now in their forties, Jesse and Céline are more mature but also more entrenched. The premonitions from the first instalment about the challenges of maintaining long-term love come home to roost, the couple now struggling to reconcile their individual needs with the added complexities of careers in full flight and kids on both sides of the ocean. Bolder and longer at 110 minutes, this chapter challenges the very definition of a union.

Stylistically, the familiar long takes and extended scenes of dialogue are back. This time a few additional characters get larger roles, the meal session at the home of a celebrated host author bringing in new voices from three different generations. The conversation revolves around the familiar territory of gender power dynamics laced with humour and barbs, but now tension is building, Céline's strong feminist tendencies clashing with Jesse's desire to discuss relocating their lives.

The narrative rides an enjoyable roller-coaster of emotions. On the way to the hotel the couple seem to be in a better place, and as a night of passion beckons they appear to be closer than ever. But one unscheduled intrusion flips the switch, and what follows is a long and harrowing argument. This is the opposite side of naive romance, all the pressures of adulthood coming to bear on two perfectly imperfect people, their flaws growing into seemingly intolerable impediments.

Across the years and the three chapters, the script's remarkable achievement is singular internal constancy. Whereas Céline is now more openly hostile and quicker to unleash a barrage of anger, her behaviour is consistent with the combustible mix of feminism and insecurity introduced on the train to Vienna. Similarly, Jesse's more laid-back approach echoes the unintended apathy bordering on smugness he first revealed after the palm reader encounter.

With Hawke and Delpy using their chemistry to fearlessly stride into the thicket of a relationship at the cross-roads, Before Midnight shines a harsh spotlight at the fragile juncture where romanticized expectations meet the cold air of reality.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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