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Monday, June 10, 2013

Before Midnight

Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy at the crossroads

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Jesse and Celine have been the favorite heartthrobs of the smart set since their youthful romp in Vienna, Before Sunrise (1995). They returned for a romantic afternoon in Paris in Before Sunset (2004). Wrapping his trilogy in Greece with Before Midnight, director Richard Linklater brings Jessie (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) to a midlife crisis crossroads. They have become a couple with twin girls but a break is about to come. Jesse, an acclaimed novelist, wants to return from European exile to the United States and finally become a father to his adolescent son from a marriage that ended badly. Celine, an eco-activist, is ready to accept her highly paid dream job working for the environment within the European Union.

Much of the film consists of long conversations in the roughly chiseled paradise of rural Greece, a landscape studded with remnants of the past. In the Maxfield Parrish colors of dusk, one half expects nymphs to emerge from the olive groves. But as always, there is trouble in paradise. Intrinsic to the setting and the arc of the trilogy is the passage of time; the past continues to inspire and haunt the present even if, as some of Jessie and Celine’s friends maintain over a dinner conversation, our lives are evanescent and all things pass—including romance.

Before Midnight is intensely conversational, even as Linklater shows his subtle mastery for moving his story along visually. Hawke and Delpy’s performance supports the assumption that great cinema acting doesn’t seem like acting at all. Jessie and Celine’s dialogue is as unaffected and spontaneous as a recording from hidden microphones as their good-natured kvetching over stories twice told begins to reveal cracks in the relationship. Like an Ingmar Bergman film set in a warm, sunny climate, Before Midnight reveals that heartbreak can hide beneath the veneer of happiness.

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