Language : English | Runtime : 109 Minutes | Director : Richard Linklater
Has it been 9 years since the last “Before” movie? If I see the release dates, it says yes but the movies never seem to have been that far apart. In their third outing together, Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke travel to Greece, where they once again combine to regale us with romance, love and conversations about themselves, each other and the world.
The “Before…” Series started off as a one off film which delved with romance between two couples. It started off with love at first sight, it was the romance of two college students who found themselves best in the company of each other. It had conversations like nothing before seen in movies. It was fresh, simple and extremely heart warming. With the ageing of both Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jessie (Ethan Hawke), there came another film, Before Sunset, which came 9 years after the first film. We once again had wonderful conversation where we learnt more about the two young people. They were in their early 30s now. They had been apart, pining for each other in those 9 years. And we were regaled with some wonderful conversation between two people who’d grown wiser and were still the same in the core. If we thought that the journey had ended there, then we were wrong for we got a third one in the series. We got Before Midnight, a movie which neither comes across as the beginning or the end of the series. It is perfectly placed like the middle ages of us humans. Like a person in the middle age, who is neither too old to quit nor too young to start afresh, they are positioned precariously, moving along and making way as things fall upon them. Before Midnight is like that middle age. It has all the wonderful conversations of the two previous films, the same romance it had in the two earlier films and the film looks like it could be anything, light at times, dark at others but essential and like everything else with middle age, increasingly path defining.
The titles have themselves been indicative of what the films are going to be like. Before Sunrise was light, breezy, the dawning of something fresh and beautiful. It is a fantasy. Before Sunset was heavier, outlived the fantasy and gave the fantasy some clarity and became a lovable model. Before Midnight is dark and light at the same time and it dispels the fantasy and becomes real, human and becomes a living, breathing entity. It becomes something that is a everyday thing between couples who’ve been in love and been together for some time. A film can have no bigger praise than being called as something that is a living, breathing entity on its own.
Before Midnight starts off with Jessie saying good bye to his son, Hank (Seamus Davey – Fitzpatrick), from his first marriage. Jessie and Celine are in the southern islands of Peloponnese in the Greek peninsula. They are spending their vacation with their two daughters, twins, Ella and Nina. As Jessie bids Hank farewell, there starts some soul searching on his part on his relationship with his son and he feels that it might be better if spent time in Chicago with his son, along with his family. The train of thought ensues a lot of talk, some tension and arguments.
Like its two previous instalments, the third movie is never short of wonderful conversation. The talk is sometimes light, romantic and at others intensely argumentative but at no point is it not interesting. One of the most beautiful conversations in the movie is about how couples handle each other. Three couples at a lunch table speak of the experience of handling each other, philosophical puzzles, sex drive and a myriad other things. An early 20’s college couple in a long distance relationship share what it is to have a relationship in the near virtual age, a mid 30s or early 40s couple, Stefanos(Panos Koronis) and Ariadni (Athina Rachel Tsangari) also share their experience and then we have Natalia (Xenia Kalogeropoulou) discuss true love in the most romantic and beautiful way possible and when she talks, you find yourself nodding your head in acceptance. A wonderful conversation to have while having lunch that makes you wish you were sitting in flesh and participating in the conversation.
There are the “man” and “woman” conversations that the group of Patrick(Walter Lassally), Jessie’s friend and owner of the house Jessie and his family are guests at, – Jessie and Stefanos and the group of Natalia, Celine and Ariadni indulge in. The men talk about potential themes for new Jessie’s new novel, sex, and philosophy. The women philosophise, talk about food. The talk always has a rhythm. It never becomes too much and it is never too less. There’s a balance and it sticks till the end.
Jessie’s contemplation to move to Chicago ensues some of the most brilliant pieces of film when it comes to arguments in a relationship. Jessie’s passive – aggressive stance to Celine jumping to conclusions at the outset of any rational discussion makes things interesting and highly volatile, an environment that lovers could easily relate to. The argument is not just about the supposed movement to Chicago but there’s more and the scenes could easily be in any of the three movies but they are fittingly in the third one, the one which elevates the “Before..” series into an epic, a romantic epic like never before.
The three movies work as charming, intuitive and very reflective movies as standalone but when taken together, they become nothing sort of a romantic epic and Before Midnight is the cherry on the cake. It is very interesting to note how our feelings have also changed with each film. With the first one, we were willing them to see how good they were together and not lose each other. In the second one, we understood their dilemma, the problems that lay ahead of them and we grew along with them. Even 19 year olds felt like they were in their 30s, having grown along with Jessie and Celine. With Before Midnight, we ended up observing poignancy and middle age crises amidst true love. We’ve had very few trilogies or franchise movies with which we’ve grown as much as the characters have. Richard Linklater’s film making style in the “Before..” series allows Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke the space to express themselves and there’s never a point when we want to be shown anything but them. Greece and Paris are both beautiful places but in none of the films does the scenery mean anything to us and Richard Linklater keeps his lens focused on the two people who have kept us invested. It is an intelligent and remarkable thing that Richard Linklater does. There’s no obtrusion to what we want and the focus in the couple, the romance. There’s no going overboard here and the couple charm us, without fail.
Even though I say that the couple charm us, it is not necessarily focused at us. They spend all the time showering attention on each other, be it argumentative or lovingly. We are observers of this intimate exchange. The pleasure of being voyeuristic. Never did I think there’s be pleasure in being such a voyeur. The “Before..” series makes voyeurs of us. The intimacy in the relationship has always given me the feeling like I am intruding upon something that is happening in my living room but never have I felt the need to withdraw. This is the magic trick they pull on us. They never try to charm us but we are charmed nevertheless. We are invited to find them, to know them and to relate ourselves with them and never for a moment are we disappointed with what we see. They make us laugh, cry and sometimes even cringe with their honesty and straight talk. The feminist Celine with the passive – aggressive Jessie gives us a source of absolute wonder, a wonder for a lifetime.
In our adventures in life, we’ll come across many couples, some very much in love when they are in their 70s and some losing it in their 30s, some making it to a week, some making it to a golden jubilee. Celine and Jessie are the kind of couple that show us how scary and good a relationship can be. Through all the darkness there’s light but what is it that keeps them going towards the light. True love, some say. True love, Jessie says. I’ll take the true love now. It is a magical journey that almost completes the cycle of love for all ages. Will there be another one on another 9 years? May be, may be not. But if it is there, am I going to be skeptical about it? I don’t think so. Not after the kind of love I’ve witnessed in these three movies. True love is not perfect, it has its imperfections. Before Midnight is not perfect on its own but in the series it comes, it is perfect. This is true love.