A Winter’s Tale: Before Midnight


Amanda Shubert over at Critics at Large:

The warm breezes, poetic ruins and pure, sun-soaked hues of the southern Peloponnese at summer’s end is the setting for Before Midnight, the third in a series of films made by Richard Linklater and starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy as the Franco-American lovers Jesse and Celine. (It opened in Toronto on Friday.) As far as I can tell, there are no fans of these movies, only devotees. Distinctly American in their frank, colloquial style, but inspired by the intimacy and spontaneous, kinetic realism of the French and Italian New Wave, Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004) quietly invited their audience to listen in on an unfolding conversation between two lovers that explored the substance of romantic connection. They meet (in Before Sunrise) on a train and get off together in Vienna to fall in love during a sleepless night before Jesse has to catch his next train, and meet again (in Before Sunset) in Paris, where Celine lives, on the last leg of Jesse’s book tour for a novel about their one-night love affair, having lost track of each other for nine years. In Before Sunset, Jesse was married with a two year-old son, Hank, back in New York, but the implication at the end of the film, which was set in real time in the ninety minutes before Jesse had to catch his plane back to the States, was that having found one another again, Jesse and Celine would stay together.

Before Midnight, which like Before Sunset was co-written with Linklater by Hawke and Delpy, takes up the story another nine years later to explore the effects of married life on romantic illusions. Together since that day in Paris, Celine and Jesse now have two daughters, fey and golden-haired twins (played by Charlotte and Jennifer Prior and beautifully directed; they're like kinetic poetry). Hank (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick), now a teenager, visits them on holidays. After dropping Hank off at the airport at the end of a six-week vacation at the Grecian villa of a prominent writer (played by the cinematographer Walter Lassally) where Jesse has been invited for a summer artist’s residency, and a lavish dinner with their Greek host and friends by the ocean, Jesse and Celine take off to a hotel together for their last night in Greece, a gift from their friends that comes with babysitting for the twins. In the hours before midnight – the witching hour, the hour that, in fairy tales and fables, can both break the spell and redeem it – the lovers talk, explore, flirt, make love and, above all, fight, in an attempt to find their way back to the intimacy that brought them together as hopeful strangers eighteen years ago.

The most obvious adaptation this film has had to make is that, in having children, Jesse and Celine are no longer the sole proprietors of their own narrative.