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After 18 years, trilogy signs off with an ending that’s ambiguous

Romantic ... Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke in "Before Midnight"

It is refreshing and exciting to have a sequel to a great film released every nine years. Such has been the case with Richard Linklater's romantic trilogy that began with Before Sunrise (1995) followed by Before Sunset (2004) and now continues with Before Midnight (2013).

In the latest chapter, we see the once dreamy-eyed, youthful Jesse, now a 41-year-old weathered man who must contend with the repercussions of being a divorced father. In the opening scene, he shows that he is a caring father but still destined to remain in the same place he originally ventured into – Europe – while his son, Henry, must return to the U.S. to be with his mother.

As Jesse forlornly bids adieu to Henry, the camera follows him outside of Greece's international airport where Celine is waiting. Our hopes from the previous film are confirmed and yet there are a few surprises along the way. Although now almost middle-aged parents of twin girls, Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) still enrapture us with their beautiful rapport, witty banter and pure love. They have chemistry, and gel just as they did during their years of courtship.

While driving through Greece's gorgeous scenery, she jokingly tells him, "You're so corny," (in sharp contrast to the trilogy) and then asks, "Do you even remember who your first love was?" Jesse answers her plainly, "Yeah, it was you."

Throughout the film, Graham Reynolds's music score is poignant, sweet, and extremely subtle. The piano keys tinkle lightly in the background to accompany the couple's journey into couplehood and adulthood. As in the previous films, the screenplay (written by the two leads and the director) offers more insight; Jesse's second novel, That One, explains what had happened after the second chapter ended. We also get to see more of what inspires Jesse's ideas for his novels.

At a large dinner scene, a young woman says, "I wonder if this idea of a love affair forever is still relevant for us," and the camera lingers on Jesse who looks at her with concern. In this way, the film believably raises the issues of sustaining romantic love, especially after so many years. This scene continues with characters who explain how friends and work have accounted for their happiness, because the idea of a "soul-mate to complete us" is a silly notion. (Conceivably there is some truth in this idea but we still enjoy Linklater's three films for their idealistic impressions.)

While building to the film's climax, long tracking shots follow Jesse and Celine as they saunter slowly past the stunning sights: the fields, towns, and city life of Greece. These shots mirror the previous two films, and their dialogue is just as fresh and sharp.

Celine,: "I feel close to you."

Jesse,: "Yeah?"

Celine,: "But sometimes, I don't know. I feel like you're breathing helium and I'm breathing oxygen."

Jesse,: [in a high pitched voice] "What makes you say that?"

Finally, when they reach their hotel room, Jesse and Celine share their most intimate of scenes. However, before long (and very realistically), their affection is broken by a fight about Jesse wanting to move to Chicago to be near his son. The dialogue here affords them the opportunity to bout and reveals their inner feelings of family life, pressure, sacrifice, and compromise. He tells her, "Good luck! Find somebody else to put up with your s*** for more than like six months, okay? But I accept the whole package: the crazy and the brilliant. I know you're not gonna change and I don't want you to. It's called accepting you for being you."

In the end, new information about Jesse's family and infidelity is disclosed before we are left with another ambiguous ending. We are unsure about whether they will remain together. Perhaps in another nine years, we will find out. 

 

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Tuesday, 20 April 2021

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