Faith & Film: Before Midnight
“Before Midnight” is the third installment of films over a 20-year span about the relationship between an American writer, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), a French woman he meets by chance and falls in love with. Audiences were first introduced to the young couple in 1995’s “Before Sunrise,” in which they meet on a train and spend a night in Vienna. The couple encounters each other again by chance while Jesse is in France on a book tour in 2004’s “Before Sunset.” They renew their romance and enter into a committed relationship; they never marry. Now we meet Jesse and Celine as a 40-ish couple who are spending the summer with friends in a beautiful Greek village. As the movie opens, Jesse is putting Hank, his son from his previous marriage, on a plane to go back to his mother in Chicago. We find out that Jesse and Celine have two daughters of their own.
While I admire the commitment of Hawke, Delpy, and director Richard Linklater, to this 20-year examination of a relationship, I find Midnight, like Sunset (I haven’t seen Sunrise, the first film in the series) to be devoid of action and extremely talky. In Midnight, friends of Richard and Celine give them the gift of a night alone at a beautiful hotel in their picturesque Greek town. Most of the film follows the couple as the walk through ancient ruins to the hotel. Along the way they talk. When they get to the hotel, they talk some more. They talk endlessly about their relationship. Celine feels neglected and taken for granted. They discuss the possibility of moving to Chicago to be closer to Hank. Jesse feels that he must defend his writer’s life, including book tours, leaving Celine alone with the girls. Celine suspects that Jesse has had an affair on his last tour, which Jesse denies.
I don’t think Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy intended a three-film series over 20 years. With the critical success of each film, came the inspiration for another. Who knows how many more there will be?
I understand that Hawke and Delpy wrote much of their dialogue. The dialogue is too much, too self-absorbed, overly serious without a sense of humor. It’s ironic that I thought the best scene in the movie is not between Jesse and Celine, but the opening scene in which Jesse says goodbye to Hank in the airport. It’s touching, awkward, and seemed much more real than the extended scenes between Jesse and Celine, which make up most of the rest of the movie.
Tom Condon, OP