A Greek Tragedy? – ★★★★½
If you haven’t seen 1995’s Before Sunrise and 2004’s Oscar-nominated Before Sunset, do yourself a favour and go and do so. To be blunt about it, seeing Before Midnight without having seen these films (preferably in the last few months) is daft as there are no TV-style “previously on…” intros so you may be a bit lost.
Director Richard Linklater is returning to his characters of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) for the fourth time – though their second outing on screen in 2001’s Waking Life is just a wackball dreamy chat. We first encountered them eighteen years ago in Before Sunrise as carefree students who meet as strangers on a train and hop off to enjoy a night strolling around Vienna. We caught up with them almost a decade later in Before Sunset and found out that they hadn’t re-united six months after Vienna as promised, however quickly settled back into each others company during an evening in Celine’s home city of Paris where Jesse had been promoting his book written about their first encounter in Vienna. Things wrapped up on an uncertain note, but the news that there was a third film suggested they’d made a go of things.The two first films were so powerful because of the strength of the characters which Linklater and his co-writer Kim Krizan had created, with screenplay credits in the second and now third film being shared with Delpy and Hawke. These were two people who you quickly start believing in and pushing for as you relish the short time you have with them. Now, in Before Midnight, things are a little different as Jesse and Celine are (spoiler alert) married and have two beautiful daughters and all holidaying together in Greece.
The first two film’s lengthy, almost existential, talks about life and love were so affecting because they talked about what could be. At the time both characters were coming from different, unhappier places but seemed to come into their own when opposite their soulmate. They’ve been together now for close to a decade now so it’s fair to say that novelty has gone as the priorities in life like careers and family managed to budge their way into their chats. But don’t worry if you think that this shift in direction means we won’t have as much conversation as before, as this film is more or less all talk, with the script probably packing in more words per minute than anything else you’ll see this year.
The film is a little heavier than you’d expect and the Greek setting seems to fit things well as the social unrest we read about in the news everyday provides a fitting (though unmentioned) backdrop to the up and downs of living through a relationship. One scene in particular sets the tone as Jesse and Celine sit down for dinner with their Greek hosts and invited guests. It’s an informal setting but it’s a series of people sitting down and talking about their life relationships and seeing how our pair of yappers sell themselves and fit in alongside other couples is fascinating and makes you feel like you’re there at the table with them.
While newcomers are sure to take something different from the film, it’s really been put together for the fans. There aren’t going to be too many films in cinemas this summer that will have you finding comfort in the feeling of settling into two hours of a catch up with some old friends (sorry Fast 6, almost). But make no mistake, this isn’t just a conceited greatest hits tour – there is as much energy, uncertainty, humour and warmth as in any of the other films. We’re counting down to 2022 already.
USA / Directed By: Richard Linklater / Written By: Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy / Starring: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy / 109min / Drama / Release: 21 June 2013 (Ireland, UK), 24 May 2013 (USA)