Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

03 November 2013

Before Midnight

I am so glad that Linklater/Delpy/Hawke keep making these Before movies.

When I saw Before Sunset in 2005 (I actually have the review I wrote back then), I was blown away by how much I thought the movie was about me, how much the two characters seemed to be articulating so many of my own struggles – and even more: that they seemed able really to get at how I felt about the things with which I was struggling.

Jesse and Céline are older than I am now, and Before Midnight is a much different film than either of the previous movies. For starters, there are a lot more people in this movie. The film begins with Jesse and his son walking around the airport and talking. As invested as I am in the father-son relationship, you can be sure my eyes had already filled with tears five minutes into the film. We get to spend some more time with Jesse and Céline after this, and they talk about almost everything other than their relationship with one another: work problems, issues with the kids, scheduling, dinner. It's mundane, but doesn't feel stifling or heavy in any way. These are the things we do. These are the ways we fill our lives.

And it is hard to be alone with one another when you're in your forties and have three children. And friends. And work. And a life. A conversation by yourselves walking through a Greek village? Who has time for that? This is precious alone-time – time couples with kids don't actually have.

The centerpiece of Before Midnight is an afternoon dinner conversation with a group of couples. They talk about gender, they talk about love, about penises and the value of coupling. Marriage as such doesn't really come up. In other words, this is about being together. Even when we're talking about gender we're talking about how we manage to stay with someone, what it means to give up enough of oneself to make a relationship work.

Jesse and Céline have given up a lot to be together. And this opened up space for primal doubts. What do these people still want from life? What do they still want from each other? And what does it mean to be in love? What is that? And what of sacrifice? What is its value when weighed beside the other things that one gets from one's lover?

Before Midnight deals with these questions exquisitely. If it is a talky film – and all three of these films are – it also has more than a few gorgeous moments of cinematic poetry, where the film seems to pause. We sit and watch the sunset for a moment, breathe together and wait, and it seems to me that in little pauses like that, sometimes something has a chance to open.

This is, in many ways, a deeply unsettling film, attempting to deal with some very difficult problems of love and relationships. I absolutely loved it, but I also felt a little off-kilter the rest of the evening, as though I'd been asked to solve some really difficult puzzles and hadn't quite succeeded.

Oh, and one more thing: Look for Academy-Award-winning cinematographer Walter Lassally as an old mentor in the film. Lassally has never been credited for acting in a movie before now, but he shot Michael Cacoyannis's Zorba the Greek and Tony Richardson's Tom Jones in the '60s, as well as being one of Merchant-Ivory's regular cinematographers for twenty years – from Savages in 1972 through to The Ballad of the Sad Café in 1991.