When we last saw Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) in 2004’s “Before Sunset,” the middle film of Richard Linklater’s relationship trilogy, they were walking the streets of Paris, falling back in love nine years after their first chance meeting on a train. Now, in “Before Midnight,” we check in with the couple again, another nine years later: They’re still together, in their 40s, raising two young children, living in Europe (here, vacationing in Greece), still walking, talking — and arguing.
What makes “Before Midnight” so powerful is the emotional impact of those conversations: Jesse and Celine, shot in long unbroken takes, seem like a couple we might know, and their problems seem utterly real. In this film, we see the impact of that idyllic re-meeting in Paris: Jesse, then married, left his wife for Celine, and in doing so gave up his son. Now, seeing the boy (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) only for vacation, he feels terribly guilty. (“I left him behind, and I want to go get him,” he tells Celine, anguished.) Celine, a passionate woman with a simmering, frequently overflowing anger, has her own issues about raising children (Jesse, she feels, doesn’t do enough), about aging, about work and about love.
And so we watch them talk, on a sunny afternoon that softens into a long evening and, finally, an epic nighttime argument in a hotel room that’s so vividly acted it seems as if we’re invading Jesse and Celine’s privacy; it almost seems more polite to look away. Though “Before Midnight” is often uncomfortable to watch, it’s never less than mesmerizing — and ultimately, a joy to walk with this prickly but fascinating couple again.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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