Top Fifty Films of the 10s — Number Twenty-Five

top 50 10s 25

#25 — Before Midnight (Richard Linklater, 2013)

Nearly twenty years after a boyishly cute traveling American named Jesse (Ethan Hawke) met a young French woman named Céline (Julie Delpy) on a train traveling from Budapest to Vienna, all is not well. They engaged in a fleeting romance during that first encounter, flirting through loquacious philosophizing. In Before Sunrise, writer-director Richard Linklater perfectly captured the way love can flare brightly at a certain age, when individuals haven’t spent too much time with their personal odometers in the double digits. Informed by impulsiveness, passion, and a sense of boundless freedom, the feeling is dizzying and delightful. The couple reunited in Before Sunset, released in 2004, finding each other again and carrying the pestering regrets that come with a few more years of living. Before Midnight reveals that the reunion became an ongoing familial partnership, though the pledge of permanence is looking strained.

Crafting the screenplay with his two leads, Linklater doesn’t wholly reject the swooning of the previous films, but he acknowledges that grind of daily existence is likely to sweep the stars from anyone’s eyes. Jesse and Céline are vacationing in Greece, their twin daughters in tow. There’s enough of cohort of companions that Jesse and Céline are able to spend time along, strolling through town and talking about the point they’ve reached in their lives, separately in their careers and together as bound pair. The terrain of the conversations are charted expertly, clearly connected to who they once were, bantering freely about art and perception, and yet shaded by trouble. And when the exchanges drift to a place of anger and recrimination, the characters’ ten-dollar words become weapons, cutting like shivs.

Reminiscent of François Truffaut circling back to the character Antoine Doinel every few years to convey his evolving conception of what it means to grow as a person, Linklater solidifies the idea that the Before films are a cinematic memoir open to anyone who can relate to the various stages it depicts. He finds plainspoken poignancy in the way people move around each other, depend on each other, grate on each other, and, if they’re lucky, enter into a state of constant rediscovery of each other. Before Midnight finds Jesse and Céline at an especially fraught point, buffeted by raw emotions that Hawke and Delpy play with fearless vulnerability and bruising honesty. But, the makes clear, it is one point on an extended journey. There will be more good moments, and there will be more bad moments, even if the film is a document of an ending. Everything comes before something else. The task is to live in all those moments, understanding it will be done imperfectly. Even the imperfection of life — of living, of togetherness — is worth cherishing.

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