Tuesday, May 21, 2013

BEFORE MIDNIGHT: 3rd time (still) lucky for the Linklater/Delpy/Hawke franchise

As great movie trilogies go, forget Lord of the Rings and the recent Batman crap. Leave it to Linklater (Richard, that is) to come up with the real keeper. Who'd have thought, back in 1995, when he had two strangers meet on a train and mostly just talk (but what talk!) in Before Sunrise, that he would follow it up with more of the talky twosome nine years later with Before Sunset, then do it again with this latest and best of the three: BEFORE MIDNIGHT.

I say "best," but maybe not. Without the first two films, there would no third. Would there? The idea is interesting: Could this movie stand on its own? (I suspect so.) How would it play for people who have not seen the other two? Not badly, I warrant. Most of the folk who flock to Linklater's latest (the filmmaker is shown at right) will already be fans, and I don't think they'll be disappointed. For this film is -- by virtue of its continuing a great love story and enriching it over time as its characters grow and change -- the standard-bearer of relationship movies: remarkably real, moving and funny, while giving both parties their power and say, without ever for a moment descending to anything as paltry and tiresome as "fair and balanced."

The two characters, Jesse (Ethan Hawke, above and below, right) and Celine (Julie Delpy, above and below, left), after meeting and growing close in the first film, meet again nearly a decade later in the second, once they've gone their separate ways and hooked up with others.

Now after almost twenty years, they're together with a family of their own, though Hawke's son from his earlier marriage (in the great "airport" scene that begins the movie), after a vacation with his dad, is headed back to Chicago.

The two and their two adorable little girls are vacationing on one of the Greece isles, so the scenery is jaw-dropping gorgeous. But it's the conversation that will really get you. Over an al fresco dinner, they and their friends and hosts talk about so many things, and the dialog -- involcing creativity, love, sex and marriage -- simply sparkles, without every becoming precious or unreal. God, this is wonderful stuff!

All the performances are all spot-on, with a special shout-out to a fabulous cinematographer, Walter Lassally (at left, back to camera), who here proves also to be a good actor.

Finally, though, it's the relationship between Jesse and Celine -- still fraught, tender, loving, angry and so much more -- that commands the movie, leading us and these two into a greater state of maturity that encompasses more, while allowing us to understand it, than we've seen before.

Delpy and Hawke collaborated with Linklater on the screenplay, as in the past films, and it's clear that all three continue to grow and mature. In the process of this day and night, scabs are ripped from a few not-quite-healed wounds, some continuing problems resurface, but so do the memories, good humor and self-deflating irony that help healthy relationships survive.

The filmmaker keeps his camera close when necessary, distanced when appropriate and always watchful so that we see what we need to -- via the spot-on performances -- and so can fill in certain blanks better even that the expert dialog.

You might think of this as the narrative companion to something like Michael Apted's 7-Up series, though it doesn't really compare to much else that cinema has given us. It's a rich, blessed experience and the kind of honest love story (as much for its uncertainty as for anything else) that comes along once in a lifetime for both the participants and us viewers. I won't be alive for the next nine-year installment. I'm missing it already.

Before Midnight, from Sony Pictures Classics and running 108 minutes, opens this Friday in New York City (at the Angelika Film Center and the AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13), Los Angeles (at The Landmark and the Arclight Hollywood) and Austin (in Linklater's hometown at the Violet Crown Cinema). In the weeks immediately following, the movie will open all over the USA.
Click here to see all currently scheduled playdates.

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