Arts movie review

A poignant tale of unsettling compromises

The latest sequel of the Befores frightens and inspires

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Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) in Before Midnight.
Despina Spyrou


Before Midnight

Directed by Richard Linklater

Starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy

Rated R

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One afternoon during last fall, I came back from class exhausted and frustrated by the never-ending amount of studying and homework waiting for me. I decided to relax and watch a movie that would require minimum mental attachment, which for some reason always helps to clear my mind. I remembered my friend telling me to watch some romantic movie from the 90s called Before Sunrise. I wasn’t very picky at that moment, so I found the movie, made some mood-elevating dinner and sat down for a session of good old leisure.

I turned off the movie after the first 40 minutes. The acting was amazing, the dialogues were phenomenal and the story was amazingly realistic, yet somehow surreal. In other words, the movie was too good and it required my full attention, but at that moment I needed a predictable storyline, a typical Hollywood overhyped production scoring below 30 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. So, I gave up and sadly never watched it again. When I learned that the movie had turned into an informally-acclaimed franchise, whose newest sequel, Before Midnight, was opening this summer, I realized that this was a perfect opportunity for me to redeem myself for my earlier lack of engagement.

I guess it goes without saying that you shouldn’t repeat my mistake and see this movie without watching it predecessors — Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. If you decide to see only this part after all, here is the trilogy in a nutshell: Jesse (Ethan Hawke) meets Celine (Julie Delpy) on a train ride and they share their life stories in just one night because they think they will never see each other again. They eventually do end up together and even have kids, but there is a huge time gap between their first and second encounter, during which Jesse marries another woman and starts a family. Before Midnight takes place in Greece, where Jesse and Celine are on a vacation with their two little girls. Celine is having issues with the choice of her new career and Jesse is struggling to live away from Hank, the teenage son from his previous marriage, who is living in the U.S.

Sounds cheesy? It does, except that it, in reality, it isn’t. Before Midnight defies the concept of a typical romantic movie because it highlights some of the best and worst features of being in a relationship. It shows that love can be eternal, but that it doesn’t necessarily have to appear so. It brings out the truth that most of us don’t want to accept — that love and relationships often give rise to compromises, which don’t always protect what’s in our best interest. The static, unembellished scenes of the movie, raw and earnest dialogues, and unbelievably realistic characters amplify all of these ideas; they almost eerily follow you throughout the entire experience and break the illusion of a directed, fictional movie. The constantly present moments of unpolished humor and sincere outbursts of love bring the movie even closer to the dimension of our surrounding reality, in which all of these rehearsed dialogues and scenes have always existed. And, when the moments of heartbreaking reality are replaced by the serene scenes of laughter, friendly conversations and bright-spirited outlooks on life, the movie pulsates with inspiration. Love, all of a sudden, seems like an escape to a place where fights seem irrelevant, and where any fickleness is simply another reason to feel the butterflies all over again.

The movie fails only towards the end of the story, when the two main characters begin to resemble forced Hollywood characters. During their climactic fight, Celine’s borderline psychotic behavior and Jessie’s overly cynical and nonchalant demeanor drastically contrast with the brilliantly developed and believable traits of their characters in earlier parts of the movie; their behaviors seem unnecessarily exaggerated. But, that’s a somewhat uncontrollable feature that comes from the script, not from Hawke or Delpy, who have undoubtedly shown commendable acting skills.

Regardless of what your movie genre preference is, Before Midnight is a movie to see. It is both entertaining and emotionally tiring; you might never want to see it again or you might incessantly obsess over every line in the movie, but you will surely remember it.