Film sequels may be as popular and ever present as any type of feature film, but very few arrive with as much anticipation and expectations as the latest entry in Richard Linklater’s Before series. Coming off of films like Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, director Linklater took his sweet time giving us a brand new tale in the lives of Jesse and Celine, and the film world couldn’t be better off for it.
With an uproarious debut at this year’s Berlin and Sundance Film Festivals, Austin’s SXSW Film Festival took in its native son’s latest effort, and it may be the final nail in the coffin for arguably the greatest trilogy ever seen on the big screen.
Nine years after the events of the last film, we find Celine and Jesse in the throes of love, with two children of their own. However, when Jesse must say goodbye to his son from a different mother, Henry, once again, the relationship takes one body blow after another. We become privy to a relationship on the brink, and what follows may culminate in one of 2013’s most powerful feature films, and easily one of the greatest “third films” in any series ever made.
First off, the best compliment that can be owed to a film like this is that it feels unlike anything any trilogy has ever seen. Entirely a stand alone film, there are moments where past knowledge of these characters weighs heavily, but for anyone seeing this film as the first one involving these two characters, it will be just as powerful and just as thought provoking.
Featuring long and beautifully framed shots of nothing but dialogue, the film’s narrative tension comes entirely from these two and their relationship. The blend of humor and drama is startling, with Linklater’s hands being all over this picture. Reminiscent of Linklater at his absolute best, the film relies entirely upon his beautiful compositions and the performances of its two leads.
Both Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are stunning. There is such a sense of ease here, that you feel as though these characters never truly leave these two performers. Their chemistry together is absolutely fantastic, and for those with knowledge of the previous pictures, the strength of their interchanges only heighten. You have Hawke as Jesse, a writer with a penchant to write too much about his own personal life, and Delpy as Celine, a mother of twins who is unsure of how Jesse’s past relationships, and his son, will weigh upon their time spent together. With their performances given the brunt of the heavy lifting here, their ability to carry this picture with such power and ease proves that both are still some of today’s most intriguing actors.
However, Linklater still is as much a star as either of his two leads. Pairing his Ozu-like frames with luscious photography from Christos Voudouris, Before Midnight consists of only a handful of sequences broken up by a collection of actual shots, in one of the most quiet and moving bits of filmmaking 2013 has offered us yet. Touching on modern romances with deftness not felt in quite some time, the film is utterly heartbreaking, life affirming and charming all in the guise of a quaint drama.
Before Midnight, by itself, is one of the best films 2013 has given us to this point, if not its very crowning achievement. However, within the body of Linklater’s series here, it proves to be one of the best cappers to any franchise ever made. And more over, if this trilogy were to end at this moment (which I could, but it has room to continue, obviously) it will stand as arguably the greatest trilogy in film history. A breathtaking meditation on modern relationships, love and how time changes all, Before Midnight is as great a film as Linklater has ever made, and re-affirms him as one of today’s foremost filmmakers.