Jesse and Celine are meant to be together, embracing each other’s imperfections. They now have children, two beautiful twins, and Jesse still remains concerned about his son who lives with his ex-wife in America. This couple we’ve tracked for eighteen years, through three separate films, are fundamentally the same people, as we’re often reminded: Jesse is still romantic and funny and charming when he needs to be, avoiding heavy-handed conflicts at all costs; Celine is still independent and self-aware but not entirely confident with her life choices, leading her to philosophical pondering that dominated the first two films. Here, we’re given a couple who’s lost a lot of their old spark but still remain in love, even as they see others around them leading different, but all too familiar, love lives.
Before Midnight not only advances upon the first two films in the brilliant Before trilogy, but enhances all of the emotions that we saw swirling carelessly in the previous entries. What astounds me about this series is the simplistic approach to complex characterizations, the way these characters talk in such blissful ebb-and-flow conversations that speak truths about themselves, and life in general. It reminds me of the spirit of old romances where we get swept up in the way they talk about romance but never truly show it; here, we’re shown what romance can look like after a long life together, with intimacy issues and bickering. The emotions running through each scene change vastly: they make for scenes that are equally compelling, light-hearted, dark, and unforgettable.
These films are permanent because of the writing and directing by Linklater (and contributions by Hawke and Delpy, both terrific in leads), the very few scenes the movie actually contains and the long, unbroken takes that dominate the film. They make Before Midnight feel focused, and we can’t easily forget the undeniable originality of these works, the way they construct an entire film and its dialogue around only two central characters. This is a masterpiece of romance, one that wraps up what will be marked as one of the greatest romances in all of cinema, and a conclusion to a trilogy that stands as an honest, deeply penetrable portrayal of an imperfect love that we so desperately want to succeed.
Grade: ★★★★★ (out of 5)