Stream of the Week: Before Midnight (2013)
In the early scenes of the final installment in Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy, Jesse and Céline are having lunch with a group of friends on an island off the coast of Greece when a newly-widowed friend says “We are so important to some, but we’re just passing through.” This awareness of life’s transience, a demand to live in the here-and-now, is present in Linklater’s best work: Before Sunrise (1995), Before Sunset (2004), Boyhood (2014), Dazed and Confused (1993); but it’s perhaps never more powerful as it is in this movie. As I watched the couple, having met for one romantic day in Before Sunrise before reconnecting in Before Sunset, now jaded after years of dealing with jobs and custody battles with Jesse’s ex, struggling to find the spark they once had, I couldn’t help but think this is perhaps the most romantic movie I’ve ever seen. Not because it reaffirms the happily-ever-after cliché, quite the opposite. This is love, this is life. It might not be perfect, but that’s what makes it so real. I already considered this to be one of the best movies made this century; so when I saw it streaming on Mubi, it was an obvious choice.
One of the things I loved so much about this movie was the cinematography. While it may be easy to take Linklater’s naturalistic style for granted, I think that just speaks to how well-crafted this film is. Every element onscreen was placed there for a reason; even the final scene, where the two sit facing a harbor, was completely crafted. The boats were placed exactly where Linklater wanted them, the lights just bright enough to reflect of the water to add a sense of movement in the frame, the chairs and tables arranged just so. The takes are long, echoing the director’s ethos about living in the moment, and the use of a handheld camera infuses the film with a kind of subjectivity that further immerses us in the couple’s struggle to fall back in love. It’s a masterclass in subtlety that even bleeds into the way each actor approached their role.
Because the takes are so long and the dialogue is rather circuitous, it’s easy to think Ethan Hawk and Julie Delpy are doing a lot of improvisation, but nothing could be further from the truth. According to an interview with both actors and the director, every single movement was blocked before filming, down to the hand gestures and vocal inflections. This makes me really appreciate the control with which both Delpy and Hawke execute their performances, and gives an entirely new insight into the sheer attention to detail on display in this movie. It’s this attention to detail that makes the film, and characters, so endearingly nuanced.
In a world that’s so focused on the next big thing (the next smartphone release, the next promotion, etc.), it can be easy to forget that life is happening constantly, all around us. By focusing this trilogy around the magic of the here-and-now, Linklater’s resisting the neoliberal tendency to push for a constantly-expanding and ever-improving world; instead, he reminds us to check in on our connections with those around us, assuring viewers that while there may be a lot of work to do, there’s still a lot worth fighting for. Stream this on Mubi while you can! If you enjoyed this review, consider subscribing to the blog’s Patreon by clicking here! It helps pay the various fees that come with running a website, and keeps this blog ad-free and independent. There are also some cool benefits for those who choose to support the blog in this way including: suggesting which movies I review, getting personalized movie recommendations, access to free giveaways and more!