The latest installment of Linklater’s Before… triptych has our atypical romantic-comedy duo Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) in the Peloponnes towards the end of the summer. Now together—and with twins—they fight about the hardships and sacrifices each have had to make since the day Jesse missed his flight. The main focus of the argument, predictably, is the notion of uprooting their lives and moving the the US so that Jesse can be closer to a son born of a former union.
Like the previous films, most of the run-time is dedicated to passionate, lively conversations; however, this time around, Jesse and Celine are neither thrilled at the prospect of romance nor are they sensible and nostalgic for the past; they are realistic and perhaps a bit resentful. This transition does not come as a surprise, as Linklater’s utterly romantic films are empowered by realism and believability. It’s quite refreshing, actually, to see that even two people who met and connected as profoundly as these will still suffer the typical hardships of marriage.
As before, the dialogues are what make these films so rich and energetic. Linklater has always been on my radar for writing interesting philosophy (Dazed and Confused, Walking Life, etc.), and the Before… films allow him to fully immerse us in the dynamics and spontaneity of conversing. With most of these dialogues in long takes, straight on, fixed, and carefully mobile, the medium close ups of their walking (or in the Midnight film, a driving scene) envelope the scene. Every twitch, every blink, every move of the eyebrow is made visible. I wouldn’t call Linklater a minimalist by any means, but he certainly has a way of accentuating certain details through his choice of framing. The long takes moreover give the viewer a sense of reality. While I think this technique worked best in Before Sunset (my favourite of the trilogy) with its extreme long take to the cafe, its short run time, and the short time-span the film covers, Before Midnight uses it sparingly, keeping much of the film in shot-reverse-shot and including other characters in the conversations. There is really only one scene which is temperamentally connected to the other Before films: the walk to the hotel. Not accidentally, their conversation here is the most detached and “bullshitty”—they effectively walk and talk like they did before. The early scene in the car has a similar tone, but the expression of realism and enthusiasm in their conversation is dampered by the encasement of the vehicle and the vision of their daughters in the back.
For this reason, I associate Linklater’s technique of long take tracking shot conversations with romantic closeness. These scenes are always two-shots, with both characters on screen (beside each other), given an equal amount of attention and care. Their is no power dynamic here, they are truly connected and inspired by each other through conversation. Before Midnight, of course, with its dissolution of romance, must detach itself from this earlier-utilized technique so as not to disturb the connectedness that was once conveyed through it. In this film, it is only (really) used once, during the highly fleeting and nostalgic moment I mentioned before. During this scene, the characters are shifted back into the dream world that is imbued by the first two films. The atmosphere, the temperament, it all comes back. I believe Linklater is showing, as he suggests in the dialogue, that there is always change, there is almost movement, and that these moments are always available to us, but we don’t always make ourselves available to them—we’re not always in the state to recognize the beauty and spontaneity of a given moment.
In this sense, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset capture a given moment of life, of vitality, of exuberance in two people’s lives; they depict these moments in all their glory and longevity. Before Midnight, on the other hand, sequins given moments of vitality in between the more typical moments of unimpassioned and uninspired living. Linklater expresses the meandering yet life-enriching nature of these moments. Though fleeting and irresolute, they are the moments we live for. They are the moments we sacrifice our lives for. They are the moments that matter, in the end. In the final scene, the characters (perhaps unconsciously) recognize this. Celine remembers those great moments of the past, and becomes open once again—she becomes available to let it inspire her. The film leaves us with the indication that one of these moments of connectedness are about to cross their paths.
Before Sunrise: 9.5/10
Before Sunset: 10/10
Before Midnight: 9/10
The Trilogy as a whole: 10/10