You don’t have to have seen the two prior movies in the “Before” series, that is, “Before Sunrise” made in 1995, and “Before Sunset,” made in 2004, to appreciate “Before Midnight,” but since they’re such good movies, too, each speaking to a time in the life of this couple, seeing them would be a pleasure to build back up to “Before Midnight.”
This third film takes place 9 years after the last one, and it takes place in Greece. Jesse and Celine, now around 40, are still negotiating coupledom. The film opens on two sets of feet, one in high-top tennis shoes belonging to a 14-year-old boy; the other to a set of sensible brogans, belonging to a man. Jesse is sending Henry home to Chicago and his mother, fussing over him, while Hank assures his fretful father that he’s okay. Jesse returns to the car waiting outside the airport, with Celine in front and their twin girls asleep in back. The adults begin to talk, and the film maintains a long concentration on the two of them in the front seat as they head back to the writers’ retreat where novelist Jesse has been in residence. The discussion in the car expands to a discussion at the dinner table, this time peopled by the old writer and host with his woman friend and with his grandson and his girlfriend and with another middle-aged couple. Again, the talk is brilliant and true, intelligent debate, witty repartee, commentaries on writing and living -- uncut for the attention span of reality-TV-fans. The other couple treats Jesse and Celine to a night without the children in a hotel in town, and once in their hotel room, Jesse and Celine keep talking. They talk about marrying or not, sex, staying and going, step-families and friends, growing older. They tease and they joust. Surely, there is not one person listening in who cannot identify with these protagonists, somewhere in all this soothsaying.
The actors speak these words as if they own them, and two of them do: Julie Delpy as Celine and Ethan Hawke as Jesse are credited with director Richard Linklater as writers, and they deserve praise as writers and as actors. Delpy, especially expressive as a rat dying of orgasm and as a pretend-bimbo, and Hawke, balancing between being in control and lost, are so believable as they grapple for lifelines among the laugh lines. Linklater also directed “Bernie,” but he takes risks with “Before Midnight.” It is a thorough pleasure to watch.