In a train in Austria a young American, Jesse (Ethan Hawke), meets a French girl, Celine (Julie Delpy), and persuades her to get off and spend a few hours in Vienna with him.
They wander, talk endlessly, fall in love and part, promising to meet again – all Before Sunrise (1995)
Nine years later they meet again in Paris. He’s in a failing marriage, she’s in a strained relationship. Again they wander and talk endlessly. The conversation picks up where they left off – except they’re both that much older, that much less starry-eyed. Are they destined for each other? Were they always? They have to decide – Before Sunset (2004).
So here we are, yet another nine years on. They’re together now, settled in Paris. They’ve got twin little girls. They’re on holiday in the Peloponnese, where they have charming, loquacious friends.
Once more the talk is endless. It’s an idyllic happy ending for our peripatetic pair. Or is it? Well no, of course it isn’t.
Richard Linklater is way too intelligent a director for anything so mushy – even assuming Delpy and Hawke, co-screenwriters with him here as they were on Sunset, would let him.
The rare strength of the Before trilogy (as it’s now become) has always been its unforced naturalism: situations and dialogue that, though evidently scripted, come across as totally spontaneous and convincing, with fully inhabited characters.
So as with any two people who’ve been together nearly a decade, the cracks in Celine and Jesse’s relationship are starting to show.
He feels guilty about the son he rarely sees. Maybe, he hints, they might move to the States? She’s none too keen – she’s got her friends and her career in Paris. And through this rift other buried resentments start to emerge.
The long penultimate scene, in a hotel bedroom, is lacerating to watch; it’s the centrepiece of the movie, and arguably of the whole trilogy.
As with its two predecessors – and with the films of French New Wave director Éric Rohmer, presiding deity of this kind of cinema – Midnight’s essentially a film about people talking. But when the talk’s this good, this absorbing and revealing and witty and true, who’s going to complain?
And as ever, the length of the takes is mesmerising. Check out a near-unbroken fixed-angle 20-minute take that’s just the couple driving along and – of course – talking.
So here’s to our next rendezvous with C&J… in 2022?
A more-than-worthy, expectations-exceeding chapter in one of modern cinema’s finest love stories. As honest, convincing, funny, intimate and natural as its predecessors.