Film Review: Before Midnight

Painting an adult landscape with words

Like a privatised run train company, I came late to the initial inter-railing exploits of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Deply). Their serendipitous overture in Richard Linklater’s ’Before Sunrise’ (1995) enabled them to be our burgeoning relationship guides, as we meandered with them through the Straße of Vienna, then again nine years later, the Rues and cafes of Paris in ’Before Sunset’ (2004).


If you’ve not seen these previous chapters of the emotional travelogue that is the ’Before…’ series, stop reading now, and go seek them out immediately. Not that there will be spoilers ahead (I LOVE movies, HATE spoilers) to ruin the experience, but it’s the epilogue to an outstanding life/love journey, which to enjoy fully, shouldn’t be taken without packing in it’s previous companions.

Almost like a playful reworking on John Gray’s seminal relationships book ’Men Are from Mars, Woman Are from Venus’ (1992), in this case however, the men (Jesse) are from the USA, and the women (Celine) are from France, it makes it’s somewhat more localised to say the least.

In ’Before Midnight’ (2013) we find the ever evolving (and at times regressing) couple on a trip to Greece, though the summer loving honeymoon period has shipped out long ago, and they are stranded, struggling with the baggage of contemporary relationships.

Like some of the best Greek food served at their friends idyllic lunch table, this is a heartwarming platter that is best served raw. So raw in fact, there’s still dirt on the ingredients, yanked straight out of our hearts. That’s not about the presented food of course, but in regards the level of pure recognition of the truth of adult life that everything is marinaded in. At times, the brutality of what is spoken will simply take your breath away. But at all times you will relate to what is happening on the screen.

It’s all quite deceptive of course. Despite the unbelievable organic flow of the dialogue between the transatlantic couple, it’s only through considerable rewrites/reworkings in the script by Hawke/Deply/Linklater over a period of years that enables it to be so ‘real’. And what an absolute joy to behold. Once again, in a medium drowning in the snake oil spectacle of 3D etc, thankfully we have humanely intelligent island sanctuaries such as this to seep up the brilliance of what can be on offer.

At times more emotional than anything you will see this year, balanced by anything more brutal you will see. Though in this case it’s ego/esteem that’s spilt, rather than blood, their weapons of choice being words, and as they’ve know their lover/enemy for years, they know exactly where to strike. The couple are going through a rough patch to say the least. A potential fork in the road of their shared travel throughout life, but unlike previous encounters, this may be the final goodbye.

But it’s not all doom and gloom, far from it. The opening scene of Jessie nervously maintaining conversation, whilst saying goodbye to his son (he’s travelling back to the States after a summer holiday), is sweetly awkward. The dads natural flow and verbal tennis he normally has with Celine is absent with his son, considering his prowess as a successful writer, it a nice distraction before getting back into the flow of the main partnership. There’s numerous other very funny moments, that have a foundation in everyday familiar family situations (lying to children to cover parents tracks etc), all beautifully worked into a razor sharp script, with wonderful tangent tales woven in (the Cleopatra the cat tale in particular) to keep up the constant flow of various flavours.

Ultimately, and astutely, it’s about the dreams/lives we’ve been told/sold we should be living, the various respite stages in our lives, where for whatever reason, we stop to take stock of where we are, what we have done/achieved in relation to our internal barometers of success. But as is the norm in a modern society based on comparison, were are more prone to focus on what we may not have achieved. Lost, forgotten dreams and hopes, a virtual/fictional world where we think we would be happier, rather than recognising the genuine authentic achievements surrounding our everyday reality. This is the battlefield that Jessie and Celine have walked onto to fight for the greatest prize there is, each other.

As you may have guessed already, I absolutely loved this movie. It’s up with the best I’ve seen this year. If you like dialogue, honesty and humanity, you will bask in the sunshine of the human spirit that radiates off the screen, leaving you in an afterglow, as in the best holidays, that will last for a very long time.

Before Midnight is out on 21st June and released by Sony Pictures Classics.