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Before Midnight

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Any parent who has seen off an unaccompanied minor at an airport will recognise the agony of parting as in the opening scene of Before Midnight.

Ethan Hawke as Jesse in this third instalment of Richard Linklater’s Before series of films portrays that tumult of emotion as if he viscerally experienced such an event.

Which maybe he has, as in this portrayal of a day with Jesse and Celine (Julie Delpy), the actors have incorporated dealings of their own lives into the film’s narrative.

As with Linklater’s earlier Jesse/Celine outings, this one brings you in as if a guest, along as witness to the minutiae of everyday conversations; life’s ordinary ponderings and pronouncements.

Jesse is now the author of three acclaimed novels and as the story opens his long summer break nears its end. With two more couples, he and his family have been guests of a university professor, Patrick, in his comfortable estate near Kalamata, on Greece’s southern Peloponnese. The region is famous for the ancient Mycenaean civilisation so it is no wonder conversations abound with Minotaur references.

At stake for the couple are the completely understandable conundrums of modern relationship – should Celine take the fraught but fabulous job in Paris? Should Jesse return to America to be close to his son, now entering high school? Does each of them sacrifice enough to the mechanics of running a family?

These are not necessarily lost people, but they do need to find their way through the labyrinth of high-pressure city-living, careers, children and step-kid considerations, as well as find continuing desire and interest in each other. Celine and Jesse will spend the holiday’s final night sans enfants in the fancy hotel room bequeathed by fellow guests. Tensions erupt, despite or because of the glamorous surrounds. Feisty French femme Celine will not countenance even the idea of Chicago, but will she ditch the love of her life?

Like sunrise and sunset, midnight is a place, a moment of ephemeral meaning and we are all but as fleeting phantasms. If you missed Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004), then hunt them out. Like this (hopefully not last of the series), both are gorgeous to watch, not only for the pleasure of armchair travelling to Vienna and Paris, but also for seeing how young and fresh-faced the two stars were. Oh, time passing.


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