Before Midnight Directed by: Richard Linklater Written by: Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy & Ethan Hawke Starring: Julie Delpy & Ethan Hawke.
Oscar Nomination: 1 Best Adapted Screenplay (Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy & Ethan Hawke)
If there’s a more literate and sensuous film concerned with issues both big (transcendence, desire, gender disparity) and small (meandering conversations, petty fights, marital problems) released this past year than Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight, I can’t think of it. The film, which in all honesty I caught having never experienced any of the one-night affairs of the previous Before films (don’t worry, I’ll be making that a priority asap), is a gem of a film, one that even without the history of two previous films (and I imagine, even more so with it) suffuses its viewer with a sense of knowing smile and a furrowed brow. Its ending is equally depressing and uplifting; a couple coming to (temporary?) terms on disagreements both foundational and trivial, enjoys a bit of role-playing that the film has coded as both necessarily repellant and undoubtedly necessary if any relationship is hoping to work, let alone one built on so many archly romantic (and real-life headache-inducing) narratives. Its petit-bourgeois pseudo-intellectualism (Karamazov! Medea! French feminist thought!) would be trying if it weren’t so perfectly deployed to dismantle the way Jesse and Celine understand their world and their differences; it also becomes the way they attack and cajole one another. No other couple I saw on screen this year felt this lived-in, this “real” — an adjective I’m always weary of using for it usually gets co-opted as a way to validate narratives and characters we wish could or would exist in the world. Instead, Linklater, Delpy and Hawke’s script (especially in the single-shot long takes between the two leads) allow viewers to feel as stealth interlopers in a conversation one would eagerly eavesdrop on and be quickly remised to have overheard. Having never seen how Celine and Jesse met, their exchanges about their self-mythologizing and selective memories seemed endlessly fascinating and I’m left now with the desire to work my way back, as a character in one of Jesse’s Franzen-meets-Kafka characters might, and watch Sunset and then Sunrise; like seeing the tree and then rewinding the clock to see it grow in reverse, seeing the memories and dreams that have become the petty things that keep together and will forever push them away. A