sat 25/10/2014

Berlinale 2013: Before Midnight | Film reviews, news & interviews

Berlinale 2013: Before Midnight

After 18 years, Richard Linklater's series starring Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke becomes a trilogy

Still crazy about each other after all these years? Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in 'Before Midnight'

They’re in trouble. They had to be. Otherwise there’d be no drama. And if you’re a fan of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004) skip the next two paragraphs to avoid knowing where, physically, temporally, Céline (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) have arrived since the poetic ending of the 2004 film.

Location: Greece. They’re together: unsurprising fact. They have twin girls. They’re on holiday in the Peloponnese, guests of an elderly writer called Patrick, played by Walter Lassally (a cinematographer who lives in Crete and, as it happens, won an Oscar for Zorba the Greek in 1964). The house for the set, in Kardamili, is that of travel writer Patrick Leigh-Fermor. (Mr Linklater, that is very cheeky. This Patrick is not that Paddy!)

For a dreadful 15 minutes it’s as if Linklater and team have forgotten what made the first two films feel so fresh

Home for the protagonists is now Paris. At Kalamata Airport Jesse has just seen off Hank, his son by the wife for whom he left Céline, to Chicago - indeed, after Céline sang to him so enchantingly nine years ago, the writer never made it to Charles de Gaulle. That said, no-one is going to watch Before Midnight for its action. These films are pure talk. Familiar ground between this most prolix of couples is immediately covered in a long car journey to the house in which we witness the two through the windscreen discussing her new job prospects and his fatherliness. So far, so spirited: mutual inquisition and self-conscious identity testing have long been what this once charming duo are about.

The film then gets stuck. On an idyllic patio, Jesse perorates to Patrick and another guest about time and a bizarre idea for a book about people with brain impairments. In the kitchen cutting tomatoes Céline muses about not very much. Gathered round a table the talk is quite salacious - middle-class intelligentsia really don’t bang on about penises over salad, do they (even if film-stars do)? - and apart from Hawke and Delpy, who are naturally funny at this point, the others, especially Lassally, deliver their lines as if rehearsing a bad play. For a dreadful 15 minutes or so it’s as if Linklater and team have forgotten what made the first two films feel so fresh.
It’s all throat-clearing. The meat of Before Midnight is the present and future of Jesse and Céline. But on a walk they take is it plausible they’ve not, in their partnership, explored its existential ins and outs, as they now searchingly do as if together for just a few months? In an anodyne hotel room, paid for by one of their friends at the house, do they not have sex (they don’t, though maybe they do later), then just have dinner and enjoy themselves (they don’t)?

This is to sell the film a little short, as it’s peppered with barbed rejoinders and engaging put-downs. Hawke is brilliant - he alone almost saves it - whereas Delpy has turned a bit sour. Finally, would such a lexically exuberant pair have such a stupid meltdown in such a perfect spot? The question is slightly pointless but the fact that the core of the film prompts such doubts suggests that it’s trying too hard, or not enough.

 

Hawke is brilliant - he alone almost saves it - whereas Delpy has turned a bit sour

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