Thursday, June 27, 2013

Before Midnight

Darkness falls, but it was always present

     Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight, the third in his series with his collaborators Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, cuts uncomfortably close.  For those viewers who haven’t seen Before Sunrise (1995) or Before Sunset (2004), this movie may seem both slight and less of a romantic comedy or laugh riot than they’d expected.  All of the movies take place in Europe, though
the main characters are American and French.  This is significant because the frisson between the New World and the Old, between a commercial romance and an art house love story, and between an idealistic male (Jesse) and a pragmatic female (Celine) is thrown into sharper relief because of the passage of time, rather than ameliorating it.  

Hawke and Delpy on a Peloponnese Island
    The thrust in Before Sunrise was whether they’d get together, while in Before Sunset it was whether they’d come to terms with the fact that they didn’t, and Before Midnight shows them together, but discontent with their commitment.  It’s a work that deserves both a male and female reviewing perspective, but that cannot happen in this one because it’s just me.  However, I can say that Neil pretty much hated the movie and was taken aback that I liked it so much because, as he said, “Usually, you can’t stand rich people whining about their problems.”  He’s accurate about my feelings, but in this case, it doesn’t quite hold up because, although successful, Celine and Jesse aren’t rich and, though they whine about their problems, the thread running through their conflict is that they’ve created them and are aware of it; they just can’t reconcile their relationship with solving those problems.  

Before Sunrise
     Because Celine didn’t show up a year after Before Sunrise, Jesse married the wrong woman and they had a child with whom he wants to spend more time.  Because Celine finally ended up with Jesse at the end of a long afternoon in Before Sunset and they had twins, she had to put her professional aspirations on hold and she resents him for it.  Although American, Jesse has the accepting, laissez-faire approach while the European Celine is the tight ass obsessed with competition.  This isn’t evident at the beginning where Jesse is saying goodbye to his son and seeing him off at the airport and Celine then speaks to him on the phone.  The opening sequence is deceptively simple:  Celine and Jesse are talking about various things, while their twin girls are napping on the back seat, but it sets up time bombs.  Jesse tries on various character bits as almost a performance for Celine (something with which almost any long-term partners or spouses can identify) and she feeds him different topics, but slips in her own editorial comments about them.  He treats her job quandary facetiously and moves on, but she refuses to let it go and that becomes the crux of their entire day.

Dexter Listens In On the Conversation
     The dialogue, as in the past prequels, presents two sophisticated, intelligent (almost gifted) soul mates whose words are the matter that cements their relationship.  William Maxwell’s disturbing novel Time Will Darken It could be the subtitle to this movie.  It too presents a realistic domestic relationship in which a successful, professional husband doesn’t focus as much on his wife’s unstated unhappiness as he should.  However, the cinematography by Christos Voudouris and editing by Sandra Adair are understatedly sublime.  Shooting the first sequence alone in an almost unbroken shot through a windshield at a car that’s really traveling about 30 – 45 miles an hour must have been daunting, but it’s presented insouciantly.  The purity of
In the Hotel Room
the colors and the dazzling light of the southern Peloponnese Islands and, later, the minimalist luxury hotel room that is both contemporary and a throwback to Hellenic design further point up the characters’ disgruntlement.

     Hawke and Delpy are so natural and secure with one another in their almost jazzy rhythms together that their acting is invisible.  He always seems smarter and more urbane in this series than his other movies and she always seems sexier and more complex than in her other movies, even the ones she’s directed.  This is a mid-life crisis romance and for the many who wish that The Way We Were had had a sequel – watch out because this could be the third chapter in that relationship.  However, though Before Midnight is exquisite, it won’t be popular.

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