It’s nice to be able to bring good news to the world. Fans of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset should stop holding their breaths. The sequel to those films, Before Midnight, is not only good, but so good it approaches perfection. The film, which premiered last night at Sundance, won’t come to theaters for some time. But if you liked the first two, it will be well worth the wait.
In case you have no idea what I’m talking about: In 1995 and 2004, respectively, director Richard Linklater, working with actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, produced two unusual and acclaimed films, consisting almost entirely of dialogue between a man and woman. In the first, the two met for a day; in the second, they met again, nine years later, for an afternoon. In the third film, it is once again nine years later.
* Spoiler Alert *
Jesse and Celine live in Paris, and are in Greece for the summer. Jesse is now divorced, and his son lives in Chicago, while Celine is considering a job in government. Plot-wise, if you’ve seen the prequels you can probably guess that there’s quite a lot of walking and talking. But other scenes are here too including a riveting group dialogue on the topic of aging, love, and death that is perhaps the most interesting dinner conversation of all time.
With Jesse and Celine together, you might fear there’d be no story left to tell. In filmmaking terms, the main narrative tension is gone. That’s probably why, when marriage is treated at all, film tends to focus on either failed marriages (Husband and Wives) or external temptations (Chloe in the Afternoon). It is a tribute to the maturity of Hawke, Delpy, and Linklater that they understood how much subtle drama lies in the power struggles within even a functioning relationship. “Will they stay together?” it turns out, can be every bit as intense as “Will they get together?” And also less predictable.
Dialogue between the principles, as expected, is pitch-perfect. But there’s something new here: the language of marital battle, which rises to a ferocity comparable only to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? But if you can take it, and if you know you love your partner, but find yourself frustrated and angry nonetheless, this film cannot be missed. In a manner arguably unequaled in film, Before Midnight captures exactly just what makes it so infuriatingly hard to stay in any relationship.