Directed by Richard Linklater, it is the third movie in a trilogy, which first featured the two protagonists, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) in the 1995 movie Before Sunrise, documenting their initial chance meeting on a train.
In an era where movies are dominated by computer generated graphics, high octane action and super heroes, it is a refreshing change to sit and be entertained by conversation – witty, grown up, painful and real.
While Jesse and Celine have many more years of living ahead of them, they are grappling with what it means when the fireworks have disappeared, when life is dominated by the needs of children and what each of them will look and be like into the future.
The conversations are enhanced when they gather around a shared meal before they depart the Greek Peloponnese coast, where they have been staying with an elderly author, Patrick, who had invited the younger writer, Jesse to join him for the summer.
A conversation around love begins as Patrick’s grandson and his girlfriend tell stories of when they first met. It quickly moves into the funny and then the melancholy as Natalia, the widow of one of Patrick’s oldest friends, reflects on her dead husband.
“The memory of him is fading,” she tells her fellow guests, “and it is like losing him all over again.”
However, the main focus is the changing nature of Jesse and Celine’s relationship. The film opens with Jesse farewelling his son Hank, a young teen who has spent the summer with them and is flying home to America where he lives with his mother.
Jesse is conflicted and guilty. He tries to explore his feelings with Celine, but she feels threatened. Is he trying to suggest that they should leave their Paris home and move to Chicago to be near his son? What about their own life with their twin daughters? Is his underlying message one of abandonment of what they have now and a return to his former life in the US?
This thread of loss, of change and of choices permeates the couple’s conversation, laughter and fiery argument as day turns to night.
Questions and observations such as “is this really my life?”, “We appear, we disappear. We are just passing through” pepper the dialogue, as well as reflections on the essential differences between the male and the female of our species.
For relationships to last the distance, they need to be robust, vulnerable and prepared to compromise.
Before Midnight is not a superficial and ‘they lived happily ever after’ story. It honours the humour and the heartache, the fun and the anger that is implicit in humanity. In the end there is something incredibly intimate about a relationship that has endured.
In Before Midnight we are flies on the wall to that intimacy, forcing us back to reflect on our own relationship with our special other.