Dear friends and readers,
This third time round is not quite as somehow miraculous in its worked-up spontaneous art and apparent felt reality as the previous two films, but we have here still a centrally gratifying attempt at an authentic depiction of a relationship, this time the long-lasting kind where people stay together. The two say the cruel things women and men do say to one another (typical ones for each sex), complain typically, needlingly (she), evade typically (he). It put me in mind of George Sand’s Lui et Elle (He and She).
So, here am I to tell you to that if you were among those who enjoyed the first two installments of what turns out to have become a long-lasting relationship between a couple as configured and dramatized in Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004), hurry out to see Before Midnight (2013). I say hurry, for there does not seem to be as big an audience for this pair of sincere lovers, as genuine in their immediate interactions with one another as there once were. There were at most 10 people in the auditorium I saw the film in this afternoon.
I loved the films when they were first aired, and wrote about them in a blog now defunct — it was attacked by a virus. So I can no longer give the details I would like to have to convey the quality of the previous films. I can remember how in the first the two got off a train and had until Before Sunrise and that in Before Sunset where the two have managed to meet briefly once again, seemed to repeat the atmosphere, genuine relationship, beauty, conversation, hope of Before Sunrise with no loss. In the first they parted at the close of the film, in the second they were to stay together for a little while longer.
I regret I cannot speak with as unqualified praise for Before Midnight. There is schmaltz: when they are with others in a summer landscape in Greece eating dinner there is too much posturing of social togetherness
even if qualified by sudden sharp comments, talk of divorce by the other couples, and one older women’s eloquent description of her aloneness now in her old age widowhood. But once Jesse and Celine set out on their long walk to the gift of a night’s tryst at a nearby air-conditioned hotel,
and they work themselves up through memory (of what went on in-between this film and Before Sunrise), his irritation and feeling he is treating his son just as he was treated, her frustration at the lack of a consistently developing career burst into a quarrel where bitter things are said to hurt as only people who know what each other will endure can utter, then the film clicks, the two people jell. Once in the room together and alone we see the causes of their mutual irritations, and their typical games; she will go out the door and slam it as if not coming back, and then she returns. When she does not come back in, he follows her to wherever she is. Their paired glasses of wine do not get drunk. This closing phase complete with the brief sudden making up (see the last photo in this blog used as the promotion shot in the ads) is almost as intensely gratifying as the whole of its two predecessor films were.
The situation is this: the two have spent the summer in Greece, in an informal small writers’ colony: so small and informal it consists of a Greek writer and publisher and Jesse and one other male writer, and their two wives and children. All summer the men have discussed their work for a couple of hours a day, and the women have cooked and taken care of the children who have romped and swum. Summer’s end, Jesse and Celine take his son by his first and ex-wife to the airport to return to Chicago and boarding-school and his mother. She and he drive back with their two daughters (who are being brought up to be French). This is the last evening we see them talk with the other members of the group and then they walk off to their gift.
In the previous two films the atmosphere was euphoric with the finding of one another of two emotionally intellectually congenial mutually sexually attractive people. The couple was in love.
Now they are two people who love one another but are pushed into tearing into one another’s vulnerabilities fiercely because they pressured and their distaste insufficiently taken into account by one another, for they cannot.
The film opens with Ethan delivering a beloved son into a plane, which son he must be estranged from as his ex-wife will not give him and Celine custody. The son is one of the living objects our couple fight over. Another is Jesse’s desire to help his son, to go to Chicago and live near him. The boy would prefer his father not to come to see him play in a team at his boarding school. All that does is ignite his mother’s (Jesse’s ex-wife’s) resentment. Celine is ceaselessly thwarted by her lack of free time and over-compromised career choices. By the twin daughters she gave birth to and also loves and is devoted to. Both are giving over their lives to one another and other’s needs — he supports her by the earnings of his books and free-lance work; she adds to their income with her part-time jobs. When they get to the hotel despite its having been paid for by their friends, he has to produce his credit card to cover “incidentals.” After that he is asked to sign his books (apparently about their relationship as seen in the previous two films) and she to co-sign.
They go upstairs and at first as if on-cue begin to make love, but soon fragments of conversation drive them apart. He cannot do anything about her not having had his success. She does not help his estrangement from his son by hanging up the phone after the son calls before giving the instrument over to him to try to reach the boy once again. She half-consciously prevents him having a relationship with the son whom the two phone calls suggests wants it more than he confesses to his father’s face in the opening scene. The film opens on his inability to reach his son and her telling Jesse on the drive back to the summer colony from the airport that she is about to take a politically frustrating job to work for people who grate on her as otherwise she feels of no use at all. That he had a brief fling (a one night encounter) with another woman at a writers’ conference a few years back still poisons her mind; she cannot get him either to deny it happened or admit it.
That the road on the way there (the walking and talking) — to the supposed idyll time at the hotel — is fraught testifies to the truth of the later cruel but true remarks the two throw at one another. It is almost midnight when they make up once again on the terrace and by playing at time-traveling they pretend together to come back from their 9th decade (in their 80s) to experience this new snatched time before midnight just before the 4th of July and summer solstice.
The melancholy of this film is no longer about the fleetingness of joy but the attempt to sustain generosity out of mutual need.
I have not seen much of Ethan Hawke’s work (and regret this) but I have kept up with Julie Delpy.