Nine years after Celine (Julie Delpy) tracked Jesse (Ethan Hawke) down in Paris during his book tour, the couple are still together and are holidaying in Greece with their two children. However, the course of true love never did run smooth, and with Jesse being unhappy at being apart from his son and Celine debating whether to take a new job, some harsh truths come to bear.
When we left Jesse and Celine in Paris nine years ago, they were about to embark on a romantic and happy life together, or at least that’s what we were allowed to imagine. Before Sunset left us the ability to add our own happy ending, but with Before Midnight, we’re back to see exactly how their relationship is panning out. This means that a lot of pressure is heaped upon the shoulders of Before Midnight; it could ruin the whole saga for people or it could elevate it to a new level. For me, I’m glad to say it was the latter.
One of Before Midnight‘s biggest achievements is bringing Jesse and Celine into the real world. In Before Sunrise & Before Sunset, they seemed to exist only in their own little fantasy world, one where their whirlwind romance blocked out the outside world almost entirely. Now, despite being in a picturesque Greek village that easily rivals Paris or Vienna as a setting, the two of them are now very much experiencing the real world and all the problems and responsibilities that come with it. We also actually have some other characters this time around, which although plays with the regular ‘Before’ format a little, also helps to make Jesse and Celine that little bit more real as we see them engaging with other people besides each other.
Whilst there is some change in format over the previous two films, everything that makes them special is still present. We still have the in-depth, deep and meaningful conversations perfectly delivered by Delpy and Hawke, the script as tight as ever, with wonderful long takes as the characters bounce back and forth off one another. There is still a slight pretentiousness that envelopes the entire piece, but as one of the couple’s friends actually calls Jesse out on his own pretentious attitude, the film almost feels a little self-knowing in this respect, and therefore it becomes less of an issue.
However, it’s in its final act that Before Midnight really shows what’s up its sleeve. As Jesse and Celine prepare for a rare evening alone without the kids, we see their souls laid bare. We see these characters for what they really are: real people with real conflicts. Up to this point in the saga, we’ve been led to believe that these two are the perfect couple, destined to spend a blissful life together. Here we see a whole other side to Jesse and Celine; a side that highlights their personal strengths but also, and more interestingly, their weaknesses. The whole scene is set in a rather bland hotel room; there’s nothing here but the two of them and an outpouring of repressed feelings. It’s so simple but is as intense as anything else you’ll watch this year.
This brings us to the film’s ending, which is sure to be a bone of contention for some, whilst being the perfect denouement for others. Like both Sunrise and Sunset before it, Before Midnight leaves us in slightly ambiguous fashion, unsure of exactly how Jesse and Celine’s life will pan out. But maybe that’s the point. Maybe we’re supposed to be left with a feeling of no matter what happens, no matter who we meet or fall in love with, you never really know what the future holds. All we can be sure of is that Jesse and Celine’s journey thus far has been an absolute pleasure to be a part of.