Wednesday, November 9, 2022
BEFORE MIDNIGHT (2013)
Director: Richard Linklater
Screenplay: Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy & Ethan Hawke based on the story and characters by Richard Linklater and Kim Krizan
(Stares longingly at the date on the computer. Sighs)
I guess, this time, they didn't show up.
I was holding out hope still believe it or not. I know, they said they weren't making a new one, but they said that last time and they secretly made "Before Midnight" so.... but no, this-, this time, it looks real. I mean,- I don't know, they might come later on when we're not expecting, but for now, this trilogy is going to remain a trilogy.
For those unfamiliar with Richard Linklater's "The Before Trilogy",- well part of me just wants to tell you to watch them and then we'll talk; it's definitely the kind of the film project that it's better to discover on your own, but...- anyway, in 1995 Richard Linklater made "Before Sunrise". Inspired by an actual conversation, the movie details two strangers on a train who have a "Brief Encounter" during one of those romantic endless nights that might've ended with them falling in love. Two romantic, inspired 23-year-olds, an American named Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and a French girl named Celine. He's on a Eurorail Pass and it's his last night before his plane leaves out of Vienna, and he meets Celine on the train on his last night in Europe and convinces her to get on the train and then spend the rest of the night walking around Vienna and talking about the meaning of life and other such meanderings, and falling in love before they both have to leave in the morning.
Now that movie ended with our two lovers promising to meet again in six months. Nine years later we got "Before Sunset", where they actually meet again in Paris. Jesse has become an author and written a book about that one night and they meet again at the end of his book tour, but he has to catch a plane at night back home, and only have the one afternoon to catch up.
Well, nine years later, like clockwork, Jesse is finally at the airport. He's talking to his teenage son Hank (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) as he sends him away to go home to his mother in Chicago, and he exits to meet back up with Celine, and their two eight-year-old twin girls Ella and Nina (Jennifer and Charlotte Prior). Products of,- well, that time he missed his plane...,- anyway, things got complicated and to quote Sheryl Crow, who I'm fairly certain didn't actually say this first, but "Life is what happens while you're making plans". Jesse continues his success as a writer and Celine's still working away as a global environmental activist, although she's thinking about taking a government job now. Jesse's become successful enough with subsequent novels that his writing career has taken off and he's invited to stay the summer on the shores of Greece by the invitation of Patrick (Walter Lassally, a rare acting performance from the acclaimed cinematographer and director) a writer himself who's surrounded himself with an ecclectic mix of friends and family living a full albeit reclusive life outside the tourist-laden Athens. Jesse's son went home early and as a departing gift for their visit, they have a hotel room for the night, which leads to Jesse and Celine, having rare time to walk around, explore and just sit down and talk, for the first time without their daughters hanging on to them, in a long time.
Their conversation at first seems like they're back where they were. They even visit a small church like the one they visited in Vienna. And their flirtations are a lot more-eh, I guess risque isn't the word, but familiar; they're not two people trying to gauge each other's interest, trying to figure out any subtle meaning in the slightest glances or the slips of the tongue, they talk like two people who are insanely familiar enough with each other to know how to get under their skin, both literally and erotically. And they each know how to push each other's limits in private and public, whenever the mood feels right. (There's one gestures that Julie Delpy makes that I don't know how it hasn't become like, the ultimate meme by now [Although I don't seem to get meme culture anyway]) And they've now got nine years of moments and life lived together, to call back and draw upon whenever they're verbal dance turns into verbal combat. It is so strange to watch these films and hear characters talking about Skype and on cell phones, and reminiscing about how these characters met before e-mail was regularly a thing and just trusted each other that they would meet months later at a time and place.
But they were kids then and now they have kids now. They try to forget about their regular problems, but eventually, they come up. And soon, we're thrust back into the realities of a couple struggling to determine if they're still in love with each other. Or more importantly, if they should stay together or not? Maybe? That's something that's kinda new, we don't really know the stakes on the line; we can think we do, but you can make a decent argument either way.
They're still recognizable the romantic idealists we once saw meet each other on that train years ago, we still hear that in them. The spark is still there, the attraction is still there, and their love is still there, but perhaps it's just time for their paths to diverge. She calls it right away, in the car ride from the airport in the beginning how it's the moment, and we see glimpses of it briefly pop up in their conversations with others and each other, like when the Jesse expresses his desire to go home to Chicago to be with his son and his concerns about his living with his mother back home most of the time. There's accusations that maybe Celine's had a wandering eye too. Her anger and frustrations seems to be so internalize every slight that might be a sliver against her she can interpret and rearrange as a slight against all of womankind. And maybe she's right. I don't know. I remember I keep wanting to yell at the screen for Jesse to stop talking about how great it is to actually be living in Paris, France, as a reason to show how great their life is, like, "Dude, she's from Paris! It's not special or unique to her!"
But that's kinda what's so great about "Before Midnight" too. I listed it years ago as the Best Film of 2013. Rechecking my old original review, I realized that I discussed the shift in the discussions over the movies as the first dealt mostly with abstractions and the more they've spent time together, they move into specifics, actual things. I didn't comment on it, at the time but I do remember a lot of discussion at the time about how autobiographical the films were. Some people desperately wanted to make some parallels to how Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy's lives and how they connected to their characters. I guess it is true that you can trace them pretty well, if you wanted to. Reportedly they did talk about a 4th film but Linklater, Hawke and Delpy couldn't agree on a good idea, and yeah, I kinda get it. I mean, you can definitely come up with several ideas and situations to put these two in if you wanted to, they even did this once for a brief non-Trilogy canon scene in Linklater's animated stream-of-consciousness masterpiece "Waking Life", but I get it now, we don't have to see them continued on. We loved "Before Sunrise" not knowing where these characters would end up before we had the continuations of their story, and now, we can have our own theories and interpretations.
And again, maybe they will come back later. Most of the time when people try to come up with a comparison film to describe "The Before Trilogy" the typical closest that anybody lists are "The Up Documentaries". The mainly Michael Apted-led documentaries that document it's subjects and what they're currently doing starting from age seven and going back to check-in again on them every seven years after that. That is probably the best comparison, I've only seen a couple of those films myself, but yeah, it's really the only other comparable film experiment involving time like that.
However, there is another cinematic couple I think about now when I think of this series. Recently, HBO did a remake of Ingmar Bergman's miniseries/theatrical feature "Scenes from a Marriage", but the original follows Liv Ullmann's Marianne and Erland Josefson's Johan as they go through twenty years of life, including kids, divorce, reconnection, and several other events and tragedies in between. It wasn't shot over twenty years, but it's one of his most beloved films, but people forget he eventually did make a sequel. His last feature as a director, "Saraband" went back to explore the two characters decades later, and I think it's one of his most underrated and surprisingly one of his best films. All the main actors were still alive and only too happy to revisit their characters and see what they were doing now as they suddenly reconnected much later in life than Bergman himself probably ever thought he would imagine them, or him, being at. And we also got introduced to other characters through the extended world, as the lives of the characters expanded and grew.
Perhaps, thinking somewhere down the line a "Saraband"-like addition to "The Before Trilogy" is wishful thinking for me, but I don't see why it couldn't happen. Now that I think about, Jesse's kid today, would be about the age his dad was when he met Celine.... Or maybe we'll see where they're are years later, like when they're 82?
It's so weird how Linklater's very best films are just amazingly timely and nostalgic at the same time; nobody manages to capture the essences of time periods the way he does, especially when that time period is the present day. Any shortlist of the greatest living directors that doesn't immediately include Richard Linklater is just somebody who has not paid attention. He's kinda had two different directing careers, so it can a little tricky analyzing him. On the one hand, he's known as one of the vanguards of the American Independent movement starting from the late '80s, starting with his breakthrough feature "Slacker", which also dealt with time in a way, as it was a multi-narrative feature that followed one character until it ran into another and then followed them until they drifted into a third and then a fourth and so on, all across a day in Austin, Texas. He'd toy with variations of that idea too like with "Waking Life". However, he would often fund projects like "The Before Trilogy" and "Boyhood" with taking occasional Hollywood features as well, like "The Newton Boys", the remake of "Bad News Bears", and probably most famously "School of Rock". At some point, and I'm not entirely sure when exactly, he did this so often that it became tougher to even determine which film was the personal indy and which one was the Hollywood feature, not because his style or subjects would change, it felt more like the Hollywood movies would find ways of drifting more into his evolving ideas and vice-versa. "A Scanner Darkly" and "Fast Food Nation" were released in the same year, and I think "A Scanner Darkly" was the indy, but it's got so many stars in it and it so ambitious, it certainly doesn't feel like it, and you can kinda say the same for "Fast Food Nation". Or "Me and Orson Welles" and "Bernie" a couple years later.
The thing is, as great and versatile a director as he is, I don't know what he technically does special that constantly finds himself evoking a sense of place. Ask me what a Richard Linklater film looks like or feels like I can almost always spot it, but ask technically how he's different and it becomes a lot harder to describe. There's a few common motifs, long takes, and especially with the Before films, long, elaborate pieces of conversation that are full of wisdom, philosophy, and personal connections that can often hide deeper stories and truths underneath. Or perhaps he's just mastered the perfection of directing with exact precision, and especially in the case of "The Before Trilogy", mastered a collaborative writing process with incredible actors that manages to make these films seem like they're improvised when in reality the dialogue and directing are crafted to the most miniscule degree to get these films so exacting.
That's the real secret of Linklater's greatest films, how easy he makes these films look, 'cause trust me, the directing might look like it's easy going, but it's not nearly as easy to make as they look. It's absolutely stunning how well he does it in most every film of his, and arguably, along with his epic masterpiece "Boyhood" which literally took 12 years to film, "The Before Trilogy" are his best at doing this. They capture moments of life and truths that secretly hide the greater stories, between the lines of dialogue and in those subtle inflections. If "Before Sunrise" was the moment two people were free to express themselves in a moment of truth, and "Before Sunset" was a more repressed moment of two people trying to see if they still connect, what is "Before Midnight"? Two people who know each other too well, and still connect, but are stuck in the middle of personal and emotional conflicts and they're trying to find all the ways to get through it? It makes it feel like I'm describing a chess match, where each side knew each other's next moves before they make them but, nah, I'm just describing a moment in time between these two. We all know people who we are that close to and we've had conversations like these with them. Perhaps this a major one for them, maybe a forboding one, perhaps it's just the one they're in now that they'll look back on in the future and laugh at the absurdity of the things they chose to care about. Like all his best films, Linklater captures a moment that's seems like it'll last forever in the moment, becomes fleeting once you get away from it, and becomes nostalgic when you revisit it.
Perhaps this love ballad of Jesse and Celine is indeed a fairy tale that has finally ended at the stroke of midnight, but it's a moment of time for us that we'll always cherish. You know what they say, "We'll always have Paris",- well, in this, "We'll always have Vienna". And the Peloponnese Coast....
Posted by David Baruffi at 10:24 AM