Before Midnight (PG)
The third part of Linklater’s “Before” trilogy can be watched in isolation. We meet Jesse and Celine nine years on in Greece. Almost two decades have passed since their first meeting on that train bound for Vienna. The “Before” trilogy is the defining movie love story of a generation. And “Before Midnight”, flush with humour, heartbreak and ravishing romance, is the best so far.
Hawke and Delpy, who are both credited on the script too, have never found co-stars to bounce off more nimbly or bring out richer nuances in their acting. As in the earlier films, all the best sequences here are long, snaking duologues – the difference being that Celine and Jesse now know each other inside out, and exactly which buttons to push. As a gift from friends, they get a night to themselves, and the movie’s tone shifts at the key moment when they’ve walked to a local village and the sun sets, as if inviting the real sequel to begin. There’s a long and brilliant scene in a hotel room, plotted like great theatre, in which foreplay gets interrupted by mild irritation and sarcasm becomes a full-on domestic row.
Where we might have expected a gentle or rueful coda, we get a battle of the sexes as blistering as the best of Tracy/Hepburn, and infinitely more frank. The pair take turns to be witheringly funny about each other’s foibles, delusions, and vast deficiencies. In a breath, Hawke can be magnificently caustic – just wait for his quip about Celine’s “agony in the trenches of the Sorbonne” – and a clumsy stirrer of the hornet’s nest. Delpy is a mistress of the half-joke with a whole artillery of grievances at her fingertips, and the emotional capacity to fire them all at once. The way men and women can trample on each other’s dreams, even without intent, is a brave subject for this movie to unpick, given the wispy, tender optimism of those dreams when Celine and Jesse last met, and indeed first met. Each film asks whether this generation’s most durable movie couple will make it – only now they’re asking the same question of themselves.
From first scene to last, Hawke and Delpy shine brilliantly, wearing their roles like second skins. And Linklater skilfully tracks the emotions roiling in the space between their sparring words. Though the award calibre screenplay captures the fever and fleetingness of love, it is also indelibly generous toward human failings even when the comic darts draw blood.
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick
Awards: Nine wins, eighteen nominations (including Golden Globe for Best Actress for Julie Delpy and Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for Linklater, Delpy and Hawke)
Richard Linklater | USA | 2013 | 109 mins | PG
Weighted vote 64.2%