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Before Mid-life

Cinema romance rarely gets a chance to play out as naturally and completely as in the case of Richard Linklater’s “Before…” series. We’ve now spent 19 years with Celine and Jesse (played again by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy), getting to know them again and again, at different stages of their lives. Each of those films has been an unique entry. The first part introduces you to the youthful idealism, and the second film deals with slight disillusionment and the revisionist quality of time. At that stage we were still exploring a concept of unrequited love. Which makes Before Midnight particularly interesting, for the actual romance is at its very heart.

This slight change pushes the film into more conventional drama territory, with an almost traditional narrative of set-up and pay-off. Both characters had spent the last nine years together, in relationship which resulted in two children and a lot of life’s baggage. They’re at the end of their Greece holiday. Jesse drops off Hank, a son from the his previous unsuccessful marriage, to the airport. That scene, one of the first which breaks series’ Hawke/Delpy-only scene formula, is a crucial element that sets up things in motion and causes cracks to slowly spread…

The location changes as well – it doesn’t take place in culturally exciting European cities, but rather in a more appropriately family-oriented, and gorgeously shot, Peloponnese setting. As Celine aptly points out at one moment: “This place is so full of thousands years of myths and tragedy, and I thought something tragic was going to happen”. Indeed, there is a tranquil sense of foreboding, which makes the audience think the film might finally turn into a melodrama… But if you’re start to think things might succumb into such cheap tropes, you might want to take a step back and think again.

Apparently, the screenwriting of both Before Midnight and Before Sunset originated from the extended conversations between Linklater and both stars. We can only speculate how much of their actual life’s experiences ended up in those films. There are some interesting parallels between Jesse’s character and Ethan Hawke’s marriage with actress Uma Thurman.

The most fascinating aspect of this series is how we can observe characters age – 9 year gaps definitely enhances that experience. Another example I can think of would be the Harry Potter film series where you could see child actors grow, both physically and professionally. In both cases you get an in undeniable sense of verisimilitude, which is very gratifying indeed. And while the latest Richard Linklater film doesn’t make as strong of an impression as Before Sunset, I wouldn’t mind seeing another one a decade from now.

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