January 27, 2013

SHOWBUZZDAILY @ SUNDANCE 2013: “Before Midnight”


The “spoiler” situation with respect to Richard Linklater’s BEFORE MIDNIGHT is a particularly tricky one, because for those passionately invested in the saga that began with 1995’s Before Sunrise and continued in 2004 with Before Sunset, even the most bare-bones description of what the new film is about, which must disclose, by necessity, what’s become of Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) since we last saw them, will be giving something away.  Those people are advised to treat the rest of this review as a SPOILER (although there will be a limited number of specifics disclosed below), be content simply to know that Midnight is as wonderful as its predecessors–although in somewhat different ways–and find a cave to live in until Sony Pictures Classics releases the film in theaters later this year.  (A note, on the other hand, to newcomers:  it’s worth watching the other 2 films before seeing this one, because there are many echoes and references that gain in impact if you know the entire series.)

All right?  For those who are left, here’s the big reveal:  Celine and Jesse stayed together after their day in Paris 9 years ago, and although they’re technically not married, they live as husband and wife, raising children (twins!) together.  And so, Before Midnight isn’t a romance, in the way Sunrise and Sunset were, although it has its share of wonderfully romantic moments.  It’s a film not about getting together, but about staying together, a far more difficult feat to pull off both in art and life.

The setting this time is Greece, where novelist Jesse, along with Celine, the twins and Jesse’s son Hank (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) by his first wife, are among those invited for a summer at the home of a famous writer.  (Their host is played by the great cinematographer Walter Lassally, whose credits include Tom Jones, several of James Ivory’s films, and–most notable here–Zorba the Greek.)   This day takes place at nearly the end of the vacation, and begins with Celine and Jesse taking Hank to the airport, where he’s flying back to Chicago and his mother, a fact that will reverberate throughout the picture.   After that errand, Jesse and Celine have a meal with their host and fellow guests, take a walk through the town, and–as always–talk.

And–as always–what talk!  Midnight, like the other films in this most unusual franchise, is written by Linklater, Delpy and Hawke together (although only Linklater and Kim Krizan were credited on Sunrise) in a collaborative effort that shouldn’t be confused with improvisation.  For much of the film, Linklater simply sticks a camera in front of his actors and lets them debate, argue, remember, joke, spew and woo one another, and even though each sequence is quite extended by the standards of ordinary movies, the 108 minutes pass like half an hour.

The subject matter, though, is different now.  Both Celine and Jesse are 41 years old, parents, and for all intents and purposes spouses.  They feel their age, both physically and in their regrets and resentments, and in their increasing determination to fulfill goals they’ve had for years, even if they’ve rarely said them aloud.  They have to face the possibility that despite all they feel for each other, these goals could take them in different directions.  Also, after 9 years together, they know each other’s failings and frailties in a way those two people who’d only known each other for hours never could.  They can push each other’s buttons like no one else, with a unique ability to draw blood–and also to heal.

For those who’ve seen Sunrise and Sunset, and especially for those of us who’ve known these characters and followed this story for almost 20 years, there’s amazing power in this conversation.  Watching Delpy and Hawke age reminds us of our own advancing years, our own disappointments and frustrations. There’s a profundity to the series matched only by Michael Apted’s documentary Up series, which has followed the same group every 7 years from childhood to middle age–but the Before series has the advantage of being crafted by artists.

Speaking of “acting” with respect to Delpy and Hawke seems almost beside the point here.  Between the time they’ve spent with these characters and the fact that they’ve helped create and shape them over the years, if Celine and Jesse are greatly different from their performers in real life, it would come as a great surprise, whether fairly or not.  In any case, whether what they’re doing on screen is inhabiting these characters or performing remarkable impersonations, their portrayals have great power.

Before Midnight has been described as the last of a trilogy, but dealing as it does with the concerns of real life, there could undoubtedly be enough material in 10 years for another day, or night, on another dazzling location, with Celine and Jesse.  This much is certain:  they’ll never run out of subjects to talk about.
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About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."