Saturday, June 29, 2013

Before Midnight (2013) Movie Thoughts

Nearly 20 years..

When then former indie-darling, Richard Linklater sought to give the mainstream romantic drama a chatty art house spin with his tale of a chance meeting between a young American would-be writer, and a fiery french activist on a train to Vienna, who would have expected this unique pairing to become one of his most enduring creations. A success story in no doubt made in small part by stars Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, who effortlessly embodied these characters, and infused enough of themselves into the parts, making them virtually indistinguishable. Before Sunrise remains an invigorating piece of 1990s cinema that continues to reward new viewers with an almost voyeuristic peek into the birth pangs of an almost miraculous one-day meeting. And when Before Sunset came about in 2004, and both Jesse(Hawke) and Celine(Delpy) had found themselves rekindling unrequited feelings, despite their respective lives (with Jesse long having become a well-regarded author, and married with child), it became resoundingly clear that these were characters and locales that had become somewhat iconic reflections of the film's writer/director, and stars themselves. By this point, the Before saga had asserted itself as a one of a kind success story, replete with long takes, naturalistic performances galore, and an unerring manifesto of honesty that is rare in film regarding matters of love and life. 

Flash-forward to 2013..

During a vacation in Greece, Jesse is seen sending his now preteen son, Henry on a plane back to the states. Upon returning to the vehicle containing Celine (and some very important new changes that have come about since last time we saw them) , we become privy to the facts that despite now being enveloped in the arms of paradise, not everything is as facile as traditional notions would like to sell. Upon their return to their friend's home on the Peloponnese Peninsula, and further notions are exchanged about the endurance of love despite the oncoming storm of changes that often come counter to expectations, it becomes clear that Linklater has come around in a near-seamless circle. In a very real way, Before Midnight is as personal as films such as this can become, and it does so with such candid ease, that it defies description. And despite all the picturesque beauty around them, there is no respite from the difficulty that is lying there waiting underneath. And these are difficulties that we as viewers may have been privy to as observers, but the two have long perhaps hoped would find course correction via autopilot.

Just as the previous films are all about communication, and the often strange things that can indeed manifest, Midnight continues this thread to an almost bitter end. As their world has changed significantly in the few years since Sunset, communication has taken on a multitude of new dimensions as displayed by a younger couple they meet at their friend's dinner gathering. With technology ever so within reach, it seems as if the world of our central pair have reached a panic point where matters can make or break them. And its effect on them is made clear as technology seems primed to challenge everything that their low-fi-borne relationship had built.  Even as we get to better know Jesse's world in lieu of all that has happened, we are never granted any ease. Things haven't gone as romantically as the younger him once imagined it to be, and Celine's wish to assert herself as an active figure in world matters of reparation has reached a crossroads where it is either a new wrinkle in her career, or to become a more domestic figure. (IE- something she has never been interested in) Cracks have begun to show despite their natural chemistry, and it delivers some of the series' most nakedly personal moments.

And the choice of Greece is far from lost in this matter, as Delpy quips that this "world is f---ed", implying an impending finale looming none to far in the distance. Just as the gorgeousness of old Grecian architecture, art, history, and lifestyle is embraced, it is also granted an almost mournful presentation. Just as the youthful vitality of our duo has given way to age, and often confused humor, there is also a feeling of unease that is well-manipulated as we are led to understand that this is meant to be a grand culmination of all that had come before. Almost as if small bombs had been set throughout the last two movies almost deliberately, just waiting patiently for them to deliver the series of painful (and painfully funny) blows to come here. Linklater and crew could not have delivered a more delicate and effective way to pay off the series than what happens here. And even as moments appear that are almost eye-cover inducing, there is also a need to weather it through with them. Performances that are again so open, so packed with rawness, that one cannot help but feel like a voyeur catching up with their favorite long-term subjects. Such a prolonged investment is soundly earned, and will likely reward repeat viewings.

Just as the film seems concerned with personal end times, it is also a brutally honest tribute to the need for greater context regarding preconceived expectations. Just as Jesse and Celine witness their love reaching a difficult impasse, we are also granted visions of a world often rife with complexity. A most telling scene takes place within an ancient miniature cathedral, which despite it's enduring beauty, also carries scars of long forgotten conflict within it. Even as friends romanticize the relationship between our leads, we already know a sinkhole is forming. Complexity borne out of age. Age, and often a lack of hindsight lead to what this trilogy has been leading up to; a rough third act that is both astonishing in its depth, but also absolutely wrenching in its knowledge between audience and subjects. Even the final act of the film takes place in what one could easily consider to be a trendy designer's ninth level of hell.

All of this talk of struggle, and often misdirected strife, and yet Before Midnight offers up signs of hope as an old world crumbles, and new ones form. Notions are exchanged regarding the ever malleable texture of love, and in how perhaps both the previous world's perceptions and the new contain with them nuggets of possibility that lie beyond the obvious. Even as complicated (and occasionally) and treacherous it all can be, Linklater and company posit that it is in our intermingling, yet eternally contradictory natures that life is truly defined. With each look, reflection spoken aloud, and barb exchanged, there is a little of that enduring need for recognition from the familiar. This is easily my biggest vote for favorite Linklater creation, and instant chime-in for film to beat this year. A beguiling summer divergent that doesn't shy away from the scars of love, Midnight is a pitch perfect epilogue to one of the ultimate Gen X romances.

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