Saturday, January 18, 2014

Before Midnight (2013)

We first met Jesse and Celine on a train to Vienna when they were in their early twenties. They were young, beautiful and vibrant, eager to leap without thinking and take a chance on each other. In the process, we received arguably the best modern cinematic romance. As they left with the promise of seeing each other in six months, we thought to ourselves, will they? Won't they?

In 2003, we caught up with them once more, this time in Paris. They were older, wiser, more jaded and cynical. Yet, over the course of 90 minutes, they reminded each other of how things were, enticed each other by ruminating on how things could have been and reconnected giving us one of the best surprise endings ever.

Now, in 2013, we see them in their forties. The romanticism that brief encounters inspired is long gone. These are now two people who have chosen to grow old together, committed and invested, with children and other encumbrances. The question for them and us is, can a love story sustain its charm over two plus decades? I dont want to speak for them, but for us, Before Midnight answers that question with a resounding yes.

There are some films that have no reason to be made. They have neither the financial success to warrant a sequel nor a story arc that needs completing. Before Sunset and Before Midnight are both excellent examples of these. While the first film still left us with a burning question worth answering, the second completed that void, leaving us to happily think of ever afters. It is, therefore, tempting to dismiss the third chapter as an unnecessary one. Yet, as if just the pleasure of watching Jesse and Celine talk about any and all things wasn't enough, Before Midnight reminds us that life goes on, people evolve and happily ever afters in fiction as in life, are false assumptions.

Before Midnight is as different from Sunset as Sunset was from Sunrise. Hawke, Delpy and Linklater return to act, co-write and direct the sequel. Unlike the first two films, there is no plot or story here. There is nothing at stake here. The structure is minimal, simply to allow for conversations between Jesse, Celine and their friends. In fact, the entire film consists of four long scenes involving conversations in a car, over lunch, in the evening walking around a Greek island and in the night in a hotel room. In an age when films are more about flash bang explosions and contrived romances, the film is a love letter to the forgotten art of fine conversation. The long, lingering takes provide an intimacy and sense of realism that is rare in cinema today.

There are a few delightful quirks here and there. There are meditations on the ideas of love, ageing and long term commitment. Unlike the peachy happily ever afters we would love to imagine, there are regrets, frustrations and deep seated issues that make you think, can love really bear the baggage of all that over several years?

Ultimately, Before Midnight is another wonderful encounter with Jesse and Celine. Hawke and Delpy inhabit these characters like second skin. They may have the privilege of growing old with and as Jesse and Celine. But we have the greater privilege of watching them do so. It'll probably take a decade, but I sure could use another encounter.

Rating: 5/5

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