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Thursday, June 20, 2013 10:26 am

Midnight a bracing look at the realities of love

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Richard Linklater’s Before films are a special collection of movies that not only takes an unique look at romantic love but reminds us how engaging the fine art of conversation can be in capable hands. Before Sunrise (1995) introduced us to Jesse (Ethan Hawke), a young American tourist on a train to Vienna who meets and has an immediate connection with a French student named Celine (Julie Delpy). They end up spending a romantic evening together, knowing that because of previous commitments, this will be their only moment to share. However, the success of that film led to Before Sunset (2004) in which she tracks him down at a book signing in which he’s promoting a novel based on their experience nine years earlier. More talk ensues leading to the possibility these two may have more than one night or day together in their future.

Which brings us to Before Midnight which finds Jesse and Celine as a married couple who are trying to keep alive the romantic spark that once raged between them but has now faded to a flicker. The commitment and complications inherent to marriage has put a strain on them while the responsibility of raising their twins has naturally added its own brand of stress. However, it’s Jesse’s son from his previous marriage that’s causing the current bout of tension between them. Feeling as though he’s failing as an absentee father, Jesse wants to relocate to Chicago, while Celine is adamant that they stay in Paris where she is about to start a new job.

What makes these films so special – and Midnight is the best of a good bunch – is the chemistry between the two stars. They remind us how rich the lost art of conversation can be as the movie is made up of nothing more than four extended discussions between the two as they drive and walk around one of the Greek Islands where Jesse and his family has spent the summer at a writer’s colony. There’s a comfortable familiarity between Hawke and Delpy that can’t be faked and surely much of their closeness comes from the writing and improvisation process they go through in the making of these films. When anecdotes are related, feelings shared and grievances aired, there’s a sense of intimacy between the two that seems to spring organically between them. As a result, the problems the couple wrestles with are easy to relate to. It is something special to behold.

If there is a fault in the film it is that it insists on having things both ways where romantic love is concerned. When issues of infidelity, over familiarity and trust emerge, they’re handled in such a raw, visceral manner that you know we’ve gotten as far from Nicholas Sparks’ territory as possible. Midnight is brave to do so, but it can’t help but be sucked back into the romantic ideal with an ending that loses its nerve and seemingly leaves Jesse and Celine on far firmer ground than they deserve. 

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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