Before Midnight: This is (the Real) 40

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It’s official; summer has begun. Not according to the calendar but by the traditions of Hollywood. Memorial Day weekend has come and gone, and with it the opening of several highly anticipated blockbuster movies, which in tinsel town acts as the official gateway to the rest of the high volume, ticket buying season. Now is the time that theaters everywhere will be packed with audiences eager to see the latest and greatest the dream makers have to offer. Which makes opening a small little film like Before Midnight during this highly competitive season so particularly notable, let alone daring.

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However, do not worry about the success of Richard Linklater’s third installment of his beloved series. For it is the finely crafted films such as Before Midnight that offer the besieged theatergoer a delightful option amongst the usual summer cacophony of action-pact films that bombard the viewer with a frenetic deluge of images and thunderous sound effects. Before Midnight is a completely satisfying piece of entertainment that presents the senses a kinder and gentler esthetic, leaving the viewer with an experience that will last long after the credits roll.

Linklater has once again collaborated with actors Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke to create the latest and third installment of the “Before” movies. The first film, Before Sunrise (1995) was about a brief romantic encounter between a twenty-something American and the French girl he randomly meets on a train on the way to Vienna. The second installment, Before Sunset (2004) was about the same couple that experiences another chance encounter in Paris nine years later. Now, Before Midnight picks up on their lives after another eight years have passed, this time in Greece.

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Although I am the same age as the hero couple I have never seen the first two films, and in fact, avoided catching up with them when I heard about the latest production. Since I had never seen them, nor heard much about them (I must have been living under a rock) I decided to conduct a little experiment. I was curious to know whether the story would hold up and make sense to an outsider who was not a part of the journey from the beginning. I wondered if a stranger to the films as well as the characters would understand, let alone care what was going on with the lives of these people that had lived beyond the borders of this film’s experience. The answer is a resounding, yes. I absolutely loved this film, and now can’t wait to watch the first two to see what I’ve been missing.

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As per the norm (apparently) for the “Before” films Linklater prefers long single takes to cover huge chunks of a scene, allowing individual shots to go on for many minutes – we’re talking ten minutes and longer! There may be some coverage (different angles, close ups, etc.), but it is limited, very unobtrusive and always serves a purpose. And yet this technique does not draw attention to itself because Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke are just so damn engaging. Their characterizations of two young lovers who have hit middle age are so realistic and dead on that they are universal. Remarkably enough, the three collaborators managed to make every moment fresh and original.

This is not an easy task given the subject matter (the challenges facing young love lasting into middle age). I mean, how many times has the cinema seen this story told? I can think of Two for the Road with Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney just for starters. Not to mention all the other similar tales that haven’t featured two legends in the leading roles. However, Before Midnight more than meets the challenge thanks in no small part to the development of the project. As with the first two films Linklater, Delpy and Hawke worked together on every aspect of the script. The result of such collaboration can achieve only one of two polar effects, and in this case the result is excellence.

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It’s hard to imagine that three people could work together so well, but the film speaks for itself. Without a single dull or dragging moment the story moves along swiftly, hitting all the right notes, covering just about every subject that exists between a couple with a history like theirs, and before you know it you’re at the end. You walk away with the feeling that you have lived this part of their lives with them and wonder where they’re going to be in the next film. No, there is no word of such a production. But now that I know what “Jesse and Celine” are all about (and you will too) I want to see what happens next. Hopefully, Linklater, Delpy and Hawke do too. I hope so, because very much like my own middle-age relationship I’m far too hooked to give up on it now. And I think “Jesse and Celine” have far more to live. Here’s hoping anyway.