Life after sunset

Romance is on the clock in third film of Richard Linklater’s Before series

Same time next decade?

Same time next decade?

Before Midnight
Ends tonight, June 20. Starring Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke. Directed by Richard Linklater. Cinemark 14. Rated R.
Rated 5.0

Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) first met in Before Sunrise (1995) during a stopover in Vienna. They planned to meet again soon, but that reunion didn’t happen until nine years later in Before Sunset (2004) during Jesse’s book-tour visit to Paris. Now, after another nine years, they are a couple with twin daughters, vacationing in Greece (in Before Midnight).

All three films are the work of writer-director Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, School of Rock, Bernie), but they are also, quite crucially, collaborations with Hawke and Delpy. Hawke, who is also a published novelist, and Delpy, who has also established herself as an accomplished writer-director (2 Days in New York, The Countess, 2 Days in Paris), share screenwriting credit with Linklater on the second and third entries in this series.

Part of the pleasure and enchantment of all three pictures comes via their air of off-handed spontaneity in scenes of smart, carefully scripted talk. These are primarily conversational movies, but they are never merely talky, let alone dull. Conversation, and argument and inquiry, are lively forms of action in the movie-magic conjured up by Linklater and his star collaborators.

Linklater’s directorial approach—long takes and unhurried pacing—has much to do with the impression that Before Midnight and its predecessors are laid-back romantic comedies made extraordinary by their tone of gentle, honest realism.

Time is of the essence in all three, with leisurely summer relationships feeling the sting of imminent departures, changing seasons, changing times, and—in Before Midnight—the first hints of middle age. All three are, in effect, engagingly ironic reflections on the bloom of romance, its inevitable fading and its possible renewals.

For the record, Jesse is now a somewhat successful novelist, living in Europe with Celine and their twin daughters, but worrying about his early-teen American son who spends his summers in Europe but lives the rest of the year with his mother, Jesse’s ex-wife, in Chicago. Celine is a somewhat frustrated Paris-based environmental activist who is, if anything, even more free-spirited and feisty now than she was in the 1990s.

In the course of the three European interludes recounted in these films, Celine and Jesse have moved from the chancy freedoms of youthful romance to the conflicted passions of a not-quite-disillusioned adulthood. The latest installment has some sorrow in it, but that seems to make the comedy and the romance count for even more.