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Before Midnight [2013] catches us up with Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) in Greece nine years after Before Sunset and almost two decades after their first meeting in Before Sunrise, the first of Richard Linklater’s romantic/drama trilogy.

I Wish Things Were Simpler. On vacation in Greece for the summer, the film opens with Jesse walking his son Henry to the terminal so he can fly back home to Chicago to spend the school year with his mother. Jesse and Celine have had twin girls since last we peeked into their lives, Celine is still doing her best to fix the world and Jesse has published more successful books. There’s no more hope, wonder, or possibilities in their lives. They have each other. They are together. They are living life as a couple, as parents, as forty-somethings. Jesse worries about spending more time with his son who’s getting into high school, and the simple thought of hypothetically transferring his life from Paris to Chicago is the through-line that ignites Jesse and Celine’s troubles for the rest of the evening.

We Are Just Passing Through. What’s so striking and wonderfully unique about this installment in the lives of our favorite couple is that for the first time the screen is finally shared with other characters. The film opens with Jesse and his son. We see two scenes happening at the same time where Celine is cooking in the kitchen with their gracious hosts while Jesse talks outside with the men about his story ideas. A beautiful dinner scene actually allows Jesse and Celine to sit back and listen to the delicate insights of those older and wiser in love than themselves. We get to see Jesse and Celine exist among others rather than in their own little world. There are responsibilities beyond themselves. They are tangible beings that hold a space among others. They are individual to the others, and each of them is an individual between themselves.

Long Takes & Single Locations. Linklater and his talented actors are allowed to exist in real time almost more so than ever before. Just after the opening of the film is a 15-minute long car ride that goes unbroken except for a single insert shot of some ruins. The majority of the latter half of the film takes place in a hotel room that was gifted to Jesse and Celine as a getaway for the night to be free of the kids that unfortunately, ends up being less romantic and more a chance to vent. There are these beautiful moments that allow the two to walk and talk as before, but the single locations are where the power of the film resides. The dialogue is rich and powerful, the conflict between the characters is authentic. This is a real couple having a real fight, riddled with misunderstandings and inconsistencies.

It’s Not Perfect, But It’s Real. This just might be the best of the trilogy all together. It’s clearly void of the romanticism or the possibility of hope that litters the first two installments, but it’s because of this that Before Midnight ends up really being the strongest. This is, for good or for bad, life. It’s messy, it’s complicated, and it is what it is. Conversations, arguments, and fights happen. People take things the wrong way. People question loyalty and love. People get upset, angry, sad, depressed. Life isn’t perfect, and there isn’t a soul on this earth that can be given that trait either. Life is real, we’re all real, and we all must accept it all for what it is. True love doesn’t happen during a single night in Vienna. True love doesn’t happen after being reunited a decade later. True love is accepting the bat-shit crazy. True love is accepting and acknowledging the worst and deciding to work through it. And true love is what every person attached to the project committed into bringing this incredible film to the screen.

Building upon the quality and craftsmanship of the first two installments this film proves Linklater and company are some of the most gifted and talented in the business.

Before Midnight
5.0Overall Score
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