Before Midnight

BEFORE MIDNIGHT. Starring: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Seamus Fitzpatrick, and Jennifer and Charlotte Pior. Directed by Richard Linklater. Rated MA 15+. Restricted. (Strong sex scene, sexual references, nudity and coarse language). 109 min.

This American romantic drama film is third in a trilogy that began with “Before Sunrise” in 1995, followed by “Before Sunset” in 2004. Now, 9 years later, this film is directed by the same person (Richard Linklater) and stars the same lead actors (Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy), who were associated with the other two.

Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) haven’t yet married but are partners with children, and are travelling on holiday together through the Messina region of Greece with their twin daughters, Ella and Nina (Jennifer and Charlotte Prior).

The first movie was about Jesse and Celine finding romance after meeting on a train en route from Budapest to Vienna. The second showed them meeting in Paris, nine years later, keen to rekindle the feeling that existed before. Now, they are living together. Whereas in the past, Celine and Jesse have avoided the issue of what they don’t like about each other, in this film they are prepared to list what’s wrong. Jesse is having serious problems with his son, Hank (Seamus Fitzpatrick) by a previous marriage, and the central conflict of the movie is about Jesse’s sense of responsibility toward Hank. His ex-wife has never forgiven him for walking out on her, and Celine is grappling with what she should do with her career. Celine has long resented being left alone, while Jesse has advanced his own career and left her to look after house and children.

In this film, Celine and Jesse walk, talk, and reminisce a lot about their life together and their feelings towards each other. Back at a hotel for a last evening together, they have a fierce argument and both of them angrily express their fears about what is happening to their relationship, and what might happen in the future. Celine storms out. Jesse finds her, declares his unconditional love, and convinces her that things will be different. Not believing him at first, Celine accepts the complexities of their relationship, and together they head back to their hotel room, as the final credits roll.

When films follow each other serially, it is relevant to ask whether one needs to see the movies that went before. This film maintains its integrity. It analyses dramatically and truthfully a relationship that has matured through time and, as Celine and Jesse spar together (sometimes nastily), their relationship shows its shifts. The mood of the film is decidedly melancholic. Both Celine and Jesse welcome change, but now they fear it, and both struggle to contemplate what has failed in their lives together.

The photography in the movie is terrific, and the acting all round is excellent. The movie reinforces cleverly the message in life that there are no certainties, and no absolute guarantees. What becomes important is preserving relationships that matter. This is a film about the readjustments and disenchantments of enduring love. The spontaneity of acting in this movie is most impressive. It is almost as if Jesse and Celine are playing themselves and we are eavesdroppers into their relationship.

The film’s dialogue is witty and stimulating, and the film ranges emotionally over such diverse issues as gender differences, the pain of trying to recover from past memories, “passing through life” while being able to enjoy it, the impact of approaching age, and what makes an emotionally real partner who is flawed. The film is wordy and contemplative, but it is hardly ever boring, and the idyllic background of Greece provides a pleasant background to all of the interactions and conversations.  

This is not a movie that has the searing dramatic intensity of Ingmar Bergman’s “Scenes from a Marriage” (1973). However, it imparts strongly the value of maintaining personal commitment to relationships that count. The vulnerabilities of both Jesse and Celine, with all their contradictions, show they have the capacity to endure stress. The fault lines in their relationship have become obvious to us as viewers, but change for them is something that they are still willing to embrace.

Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.

Hopscotch Films.

Out 18th July 2013.