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Before Midnight

Made in 1995, Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise was a deceptively simple film about the power of words and the lure of love, in which an American played by Ethan Hawke and a Frenchwoman played by Julie Delphy meet while travelling in Vienna. Knowing that their trains will take them in opposite directions in a few hours, they decide to spend that time together, and their conversation is colored by that limitation. The sequel, 2004’s Before Sunset, finds an excuse to bring Jesse and Celine back together, and though it appears to be a replay of the earlier movie, it is fundamentally different in that the pair have begun what they think of as their lives, and must decide if they want to make a very jarring change in those lives by becoming a couple.

Both films are romantic fantasies that touched a lot of people who were of the same age, what was briefly known as Gen Y. (They also made a brief appearance in Linklater’s 1991 phantasmagoria Waking Life). For the third installment of what is turning into a fictional variation on Michael Apted’s British 7 UP series, Linklater and his stars (who have become collaborators on the script) want to take this relationship to a more realistic level. That minds can meet and meld is magical and what we all hope for, as promised by the earlier films. But to keep love alive—well, that takes work.

That’s not the easiest thing to convey within the strictures set by the previous films: a single day (all of Linklater’s films observe the Aristotelian Unity of Time) devoted to conversation. Jesse and Celine now live in Paris and have two children. We visit them at the end of a vacation in Greece, as they face concerns (only gradually apparent, to us and somewhat to them) about the direction of their future.

The drawback of Before Midnight is that its perception of every day life isn’t one that will be shared by a lot of audiences. The earlier films were fantasies that invited our projection: We were happy to imagine being these people. Asking for our identification here is tougher, given that Jesse is now a world famous novelist and they seem to live with no concerns about money. (Some reviewers have written about Celine’s status as a feminist warrior, which I could take a little more seriously if the film ever bothered to tell us what it is she does for a living.) For the first half of the film, I found myself struggling to care about their problems as they chatted with friends over dinner at a Greek vacation house.

But patience is rewarded when the film finally gets to where it’s going, a half-hour long argument that is as inevitable and seemingly pointless as these things often are. It’s a brilliantly executed sequence that brings the rest of the film into perspective, though you might wish they had taken less time in getting there.

Watch the trailer for Before Midnight

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