Nine years after Jesse & Celine’s last encounter in Paris, we join them on holiday in Greece, where Richard Linklater effortlessly makes a perfect film.
1995’s Before Sunrise beamed with infectious enthusiasm on love and spontaneity. 2004’s Before Sunset meditated on the aftermath of it being unrequited, with our babbling lovers changed by time. 2013’s Before Midnight tackles marriage, much like Linklater has tackled anything in this perfect trilogy, in the most mature and realistic way I’ve seen depicted in cinema.
We can get so used to cinematic shorthand and convention. Like a pavlovian dog we lap up cliches, the same set-ups and pay-offs, watching archetypes and stereotypes re-enact the same manoeuvres around each other, that we forget we’re being force-fed the same gruel over and over.
Then comes Linklater, perhaps America’s greatest export, with an unflinching, brutally honest look at how two people born from modern first-world countries hold onto an emotion that is so fragile and fleeting, that can be ripped away in an instant or slowly over a period of time. An emotion that can be stretched, but also moulded into something else. An emotion that can remain strong in the face of change. An emotion worn on the sleeve, or behind a veil.
I mention first-world country, as I feel there’s a distinction to be made. Sure, love is universal, and lovers go through the same bullshit worldwide, but the bullshit a French and American go through is different than the bullshit, say, an Iraqi and Iranian might go through. Culture has an impact on the periphery of our love lives. Jesse mocks Celine during one of their exchanges for feeling society threatening her feminine independence, despite the fact that she’s grown up in post-feminist France, and is one of the most strong-willed women to blaze the screen.
True to form, we observe the opinionated couple in long tracking scenes as they navigate around Greece musing on where they’ve ended up, how Jesse is coping with a long distance relationship with his son, and how Celine is conflicted on a new work opportunity that may compromise her beliefs.
Jesse and Celine are such honest lovers, their adherence to hashing their problems out no holds barred is responsible for the blazing rows they embroil themselves in, with Ethan Hawke’s Jesse literally calling Julie Delpy’s lovably neurotic woman crazy in one crowd-pleasing moment. As much as the long sunny day puts them through the wringer, it has time to make us and the characters laugh, because that’s life. Emotions always in flux, but for the romantics out there, take heart that Jesse and Celine’s love is one for the ages.
The direction as usual gives the impression that it’s minimal and off-the-cuff, random and improvised. Nothing could be further from the truth, as the director along with co-writers Hawke and Delpy planned every second of the film at the script-stage. To make their performances look improvised to the viewer, it speaks great volumes to the skill involved by everyone participating in this gorgeous film.
It’s a film to put into the welcoming pack for any visiting aliens to Earth. For when they ask to know about ‘cinema’, and the human concept of ‘love’. You show them this perfect film. Film buffs who claim there are no great third entries in a trilogy can now re-assess their lists. Aspiring writers will quiver in awe at Linklater’s dialogue, hopefully not giving up on their dreams, but being inspired by this masterpiece.
So yeah, I kinda loved it.
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