Before Midnight: Hawke and Delpie at Mid-Age

“Before Midnight,” the third chapter in Richard Linklater’s remarkable film series, is a fully realized, emotionally astute feature than more justifies the continuation of this distinctly (and distinctively) American romantic adventure and endless talk fest (though the talk is always intelligent and poignant.

The latest is a follow up to the equally captivating “Before Sunrise,” which was made in 1995, and “Before Sunset,” produced in 2004. It makes perfect sense to resume this unique franchise at nine-year intervals, which now a days represent a whole generation in terms of culture, technology, and media.

The “Before” series may prevail for several decades- until the filmmakers decide that they have exhausted all the narrative and dramatic possibilities inherent in this conceptual (and cerebral) material, which is beautifully enacted by its two stars, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpie.

Viewers and critics (like me), who have followed the actors over the past two decades, have aged along with the protagonists, and those spectators qho are of the same age of Hawke and Delpie will find “Before Midnight” particularly resonant and timely in terms of its central issues and concerns.

In this segment, Ethan Hawke’s Jesse and Julie Delpié’s Celine are in their forties, and while not exactly going through mid-life crisis, they face all the existential, professional, and personal problems that modern, intelligent, and alert characters of their caliber deal with.

Early on, Jesse is seeing off his son Hank (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) at the Kalamata Airport in Greece. Hank is returning to his mother and life in the U.S. after spending what he describes as the “best summer ever” with Jesse and his new family.

As their separation draws near, the middle-school guy is calmer and cooler than his anxiety-ridden father. There is a reason for his restlessness, as he is about to rejoins Celine and their young twin daughters, Ella and Nina (Jennifer and Charlotte Prior).

The geographic landscapes of the trilogy continue to change, adding a much needed and fresher dimension, and in some way the vistas and locations also play a character in the text; they are not merely there for their exotic look. The couple now drives through the beautiful rocky hillsides of Messinia.

As they drive, the duo engages in lengthy, routine, but also passionate talks about their lives far from Hank, about Celine’s career as an environmentalist and hopes for a new job, while not neglecting some more general and aesthetic issues, such as the appeal of ancient and modern Greece and its impact on everyday life.

Both latent and overt tensions arise, when Jesse hints at his wish to move back to the U.S., after years of living in Paris. Celine is less excited by the prospects, feeling that she has paid her dues, when they lived in New York for a while. Still European in her psychological makeup and sensibility, she is not particularly eager to return to America.

A successful novelist, Jesse is in Greece at a writer’s retreat, staying in the bucolic villa of an older expatriate writer, Patrick (Walter Lassally). Jesse’s fertile imagination—his flights of creative fancy, skills at storytelling—prove endearing to his surrounding company, which is composed of warm and friendly Greek couples, which clearly have not met before anyone like Jesse.

For her part, Celine is beginning to show signs of fatigue and intellectual weariness of serving as the muse to Jesse’s creative career. As is known by now, Celine’s past has played a significant part in Jesse’s semi-personal novels.

Mid-point, the couple gets to spend a luxurious, worries-free night alone at a seaside hotel, when their Greek friends volunteer to babysit for the twins. Feeling the undercurrents of frictions between them, Celine wants to beg off, but their friends insist.

This marital crisis offers an opportunity to take long walks through the spectacular countryside, enjoy each other’s intimate bond (as they used to, before they had children and obligations and responsibilities).

In the process, they talk, tease, flirt, argue, debate and disagree. But middle-age and the new responsibilities impinge and they can no longer forget completely the outside, more öbjective” reality, as it impinges on this (and all other) nights.

Throughtout there is evidence of nostalgia for a past that’s well remembered but also idealized, for oost youth, for inevitable regrets that come with aging and maturing, painful truth (Is this the life I really want to live? Is this the man/woman I would like to end my life with?).

Inevitably, there is the weight of children, the pressures of work, the feel of unfulfilled ambitions, various personal and professional disappointments, not to mention the ebb and flow of romantic love, the decrease of eros as manifest in their declining sexual lives. But there are also the strains of a continuously evolving, deepening relationship, and the tests of new challenges, as they are isolated in an idyllic, solitary night, far from their routine existence.

For those who need a reminder, Jesse and Celine first met while they were in their twenties in “Before Sunrise,” in 1995), they were then reunited a decade later while in their thirties in “Before Sunset” in 2004. The best compliment I can pay this feature is to say that I am eager to see the follow-up, hopefully in 2022.