"Before Midnight"

It started with Before Sunrise and then continued with the eloquently beautiful Before Sunset. Richard Linklater's trilogy of romance in european cities has built a solid cult following since its inception in 1995. Here's the deal with the third -and presumably final- chapter of the trilogy; If you haven't seen the first two movies, you might still enjoy this one BUT not as much as if you already know these smart, articulately conversational characters. It all started in Vienna when Celine and Jesse met on a train and fell in love then parted ways. It wasn't until 2004 they met up again for another day but this time, in Paris, they had both matured and were -shall I say- far less annoying than the first time around. Jesse was unhappily married with a kid and Celine struggled to find much in the way of love. That bid well for the film itself -Before Sunset- which was a masterful examination of love, family life and conversation.  That film ended ambiguously with Jesse at Celine's apartment about to miss a flight but laughing it off, making the audience wonder if he actually misses that flight and decided to ditch his wife and hook up for the long term with Celine. Never has an audience wanted an on-screen character to cheat on his wife so bad.

In Before Midnight we get our answer. Jesse stayed. In fact he and Celine ended up making love for days and having 2 beautiful girls in Paris. The film starts off as Jesse accompanies his son at the airport after having both spent a whole summer with Celine and the girls at a fellow author's Greek country house. Jesse is left agonized by the dreaded feeling of his son leaving and not knowing when he'll see him next. He has a fear that his son will not grow up before his very eyes. The film's first conversation has our two protagonists driving with their two children, we are back at the beginning; smart talk about life, love and family. We have a smile on our faces, it's as if nothing has changed and these two lovebirds have a happy marriage going for them. However, hints begin to appear. Feelings of un-satisfaction infuse both these characters. The second big conversation of the film takes place at a dinner table as most of the visitors at the greek country house gather to talk about their own experiences with love, marriage and death. The conversation is effortless. The things we learn endless and the lessons hardening. Love is not an easy thing and the scars it leaves very apparent.

On their way to a romantic night at a hotel room -setup by their friends- Jesse and Celine are talking and walking like we were always used to seeing them in the other movies but this time they have more life experiences and are more familiar with one another. The sparks seems to still be there, their intellects intact yet there's a bitterness to some of their words that ultimately leads to a night of verbal stings. The hotel room fight has been talked about very much by cinematic enthusiasts, many siding with Jesse but others understanding Celine's points and arguments. There really isn't anyone that's wrong or right here. The aggressiveness Celine shows is all the bottled up anger any 21st century female would have in a relationship with children of her own ; taking care of the kids, handling most of the responsibilities and not having time for any self independence, Celine is muddled in the daily grind of motherhood. It's not that she doesn't love Jesse anymore -although she does memorably say it- it's just that Celine didn't envision a life such as this one. She was always a free spirit with her feminine independence firmly intact. Jesse being the male of the relationship ends up handling much less and enjoying life a bit more. Celine is bitter about that and wishes Jesse would help out a little more and be less concerned with his Son that resides in the states.

Celine is indelibly played by Julie Delpy who deserves all the awards attention  that will be coming her way in the months to come and Jesse is superbly played by Ethan Hawke in what is the best role he's ever had. They both wrote the screenplay with director Linkater (School Of Rock, Dazed And Confused, Waking Life) much of it clearly improvised, from the artists' own experiences/points of views and countless storyboards. This brings a real sense of authenticity to the films. Before Midnight is a great movie because it asks questions about love that many Hollywood movies refuse to ask. Is our view of love as a society conflicted, disjointed? Or can we really love someone eternally, in a "forever" sense of the term? How many compromises can we actually make before we end up losing sense of ourselves and our own independence? All this for the sake of love? There is not one answer to any of these questions. Linklater is a curiosity seeker that asks more than he answers and the way Before Midnight ends makes you wonder exactly what might happen next. The ending is frustrating and much less satisfyingly ambiguous than Before Sunset but I'll be damned if he doesn't succeed in trying to explain what long term love is in a 90 minute time frame. If there's a better date movie out there, I haven't seen it. I hope we get to meet Celine and Jesse every 9 years.