Delpy, Hawke still wield their charm 'Before Midnight'
05:00 AM, May 23, 2013
Celine and Jesse still enchant us. The enduring romance about an unlikely, but infinitely sympathetic, cross-cultural couple may be more vital than ever.
The third in the series after 1995’s Before Sunrise and 2004’s Before Sunset follows the intimate path of the previous films, but digs even deeper. Before Midnight (*** ½ out of four; rated R; opens Friday in select cities) is bittersweet, intelligently written, deftly acted and painfully honest.
Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) met by chance almost two decades ago on a train to Vienna. They spent a long night talking. He’s American, she’s French, but they understood each other completely. It was the quintessential twentysomething encounter, and felt like kismet.
Nine years later the couple met again, this time on purpose, in Paris. Despite their complicated lives, they were even more drawn to each other.
Now, we meet them as an established couple in their early 40s, on holiday in Greece, raising a pair of tow-headed daughters.
They talk with companionable ease on a long car drive (shot in a single take over about 15 minutes) as their little girls nap in the back seat. After several years of living in Paris, Jesse laments not being able to see enough of his 14-year-old son, who lives in Chicago with his mom. He floats the idea of moving there. Celine feels he’s not taking her career into account. Sparks fly and words scorch.
The dialogue is so natural it feels improvised. But it’s closely scripted by director Richard Linklater and co-written by Delpy and Hawke, who know these characters inside and out.
The conversation continues as they walk, sit at a café or move from amorous gestures to heated words in a hotel room. They are meant to be on a romantic idyll, but resentments intervene. Jesse is a writer and Celine a political activist. She confronts, he dodges and retreats. It’s all riveting, even as our sympathies shift.
The film trips up slightly during a long dinner with a Greek writer and his family. What these others have to say about romance is not nearly as intriguing as the couple we’ve been enthralled with for 18 years.
The actors fully inhabit the roles, their chemistry easy and authentic. Jesse and Celine connect deeply, disagree ardently and occasionally hurt each other in ways that only the closest companions can.
The iconoclastic Celine likes to say things to get a reaction. Supremely Gallic, she complains about her expanding derriere and thinning hair in a way that’s uniquely her: “The best thing about being over 35 is you don’t get raped as much.”
In a sweetly moving scene sitting by the water in a lovely Greek village, Jesse pretends to read a letter to Celine from her 82-year-old self: “She says you’re going into the best years of your life.”
Hawke and Delpy have joked that they want to keep making these movies until they reach the age of the octogenarian couple in last year’s Amour.
Let’s hope they get their wish.