b e f o r e m i d n i g h t
21st June 2013
Celine & Jesse
27th June 2013
I first fell in love with Linklater’s Before.. series way back in 1995. As an 18 year old it was great timing seeing a movie about two 21 year olds spending the most unlikely of romantic evenings in the beautiful surroundings of Vienna. I then had to wait the best part of a decade to find out if they did meet up again as they promised on the train platform. First viewing of the sequel was a tricky experience. What if Linklater blew it and undid all the good work from the first? Well, he didn’t of course, he knocked the ball out of the park and left me with the most frustratingly brilliant ending since the last episode of the Sopranos. I was grateful for watching Before Sunset on DVD as nobody witnessed me shrieking ‘no!!!’ involuntarily as the screen went black. Then sitting and grinning like an idiot as the realisation dawned that it was the only possible way to end the film.
So now, another nine years on and fully 18 from the original, we’re presented with Before Midnight. Which does make you wonder how Linklater can drag out any more Before timelines. I guess the next one would be Before Breakfast? We catch up with Celine and Jesse as he awkwardly says goodbye to his American son at the end of a summer holiday that has taken the family to stay with friends in Greece. Beautiful picturesque Greece. The couple now have young twins (girls) and are struggling to juggle job demands (Celine’s desire to be having more impact in her non-specific environmental job / Jesse’s book tours), location (living in Paris is a long trip to see Jesse’s son) and the effects of now having been together for a significant amount of time (since the last film).
The joy of the first two films was that we spent all our time with Celine and Jesse, there were barely any other characters and everything was seen through their eyes. This is likewise the case with Before Midnight with the exception of the middle section where we are introduced to the friends that they are staying with. It’s an awkward move for the series and not one that you get to feel particularly comfortable with. It is presumably a deliberate interjection to demonstrate that, unlike the first two episodes, the couple now have responsibilities beyond themselves and each other, they’re now sharing their relationship with more people and it does make that point but it’s a relief when the friends are ditched and the couple wonder off through the village to stay at a hotel that one of the friends has booked for them. Around this interlude, we get exactly what we’ve been expecting.
It’s a pointless spoiler to go into too many details about what Celine and Jesse discuss because if you’re a fan of the series, you won’t want to hear it second hand from me. The point is that we still feel like we know these guys. It’s like meeting up with old friends that you haven’t seen in years but as soon as you do see them, you just pick up as if no time has passed. You instantly feel comfortable with their back and forth banter and sojourns into distant memories. When they argue about the direction their life has taken, we don't need to see flashbacks to show examples, we can remember them for ourselves. It's a powerful effect. When Celine states her frustration at spending all her time being a mother and full time career woman, she points out how she used to love writing songs and playing the guitar - something we're well aware of already from the previous film and our minds drift back the that Celine automatically. It's an intimacy with the characters that could only have been built over a series of well written films (credit here for Kim Krizan too, not credited on this screenplay but an integral part of the first two films).
The only issue is that they have been relatively settled since episode two so the element of ‘what if’ is now missing. We’re essentially left with two people discussing encroaching middle age. Two great looking, well off and spectacularly fortunate people at that. The genius of this being a series is that you don’t look at them like that because to an extent you’ve travelled with them – especially if you’ve been watching the films over the years as I have.
A point I probably should have made more specifically earlier – there is NO point in watching this movie unless you’ve seen the first two. You can’t pick up the thread at any point other than the start of the first episode – it’s an emotional connection and if you miss that, the remainder is redundant. I suspect the series has always split people’s opinion and this latest entry won’t convert anyone who doesn’t already enjoy being with Celine and Jesse. It’s wonderful catching up with them again, the scenery is stunning, the music perfect as always and even with the uncomfortable introduction of other named characters, you still feel an unrivalled sense of emotional connection with them. As for the ending this time, well I’m clearly not going to spoil that. I’m not sure if I want Linklater to make more of the Before.. films (do we really want to see these guys dealing with their kids going off to university?) but I have felt like that after both previous episodes so I guess as ever I shall leave it to him.
Check out the Before Midnight trailer here.