I'll give you three good reasons to see Before Midnight, the perfectly modest follow-up to 1995's Before Sunrise and 2004's Before Sunset.
No. 1: One of the film's opening scenes--featuring co-stars Julie Delpy as Celine and Ethan Hawke as Jesse driving through the Greek countryside--has no edits and lasts a staggering 15 minutes. Featuring a conversational arc stretching from small talk about food to the largesse of a crumbling relationship, the scene is a cinematic wonder.
Certain to be deconstructed by film students for decades--and particularly screenwriters--this single-camera shot is guileless in that it allows actors and authors to treat the audience with such high respect that attention to character is never compromised.
No. 2: Deep into the film (but well before midnight), Celine and Jesse have escaped family and friends to spend what they hope to be a rare night of intimacy. But soon after a pre-coital embrace, they're interrupted by a phone call: It's Jesse's son (Celine's stepson) calling to say that he had arrived home safely. The call triggers a conversation that ultimately upends the romantic mood, as Celine and Jesse begin talking about homework assignments and parenting.
But Celine is topless--her blouse previously undone in a libidinous moment. Delpy, gorgeous but mature at 43, continues talking as if she were at a PTA meeting. It's a moment of uncomfortably stark reality that I still can't shake. In that scene, we find the core of Before Midnight: a couple who has distanced themselves from "happily ever after."
No. 3: The film manages to capture that elusive firefly of genius that we hardly see anymore in cinema--an unexpected ending. It has been too long since I can recall a film where I didn't have a good idea of how it might end. Let's face it, today's movie-going experience is pretty transparent: multiple cars will crash, the cheating spouse will be forgiven and Superman will win. But not until the final frames of Before Midnight do we have a sense of how, or even if, Celine and Jesse will find that delicate balance of intimacy and middle age.
Delpy and Hawke--who co-authored the script with director Richard Linklater--take their act even further out on the high wire of filmmaking. With longer, more discerning dialogue, they are miles higher than that young couple we first met on a train to Vienna nearly two decades ago. The ensuing years have turned their passion into empathy and lust to affinity.
In one of their many conversations, Celine asks Jesse the timeworn, but tricky question:
"If we were to meet tomorrow, would you find me attractive?"
The only answer is "Yes." But what he truly means to say is, "Yes. But so much more, and in so many more ways."