I’m not sure I’ll ever see another string of films that compares to what Richard Linklater and company have accomplished with “Before Sunrise,” “Before Sunset” and now “Before Midnight.”

There’s quite simply nothing else like this ongoing story of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy).

When we first met them in “Before Sunrise,” Jesse and Celine were young and hopelessly in love after just one night spent together wandering the streets of Vienna. They were supposed to reunite six months later, but instead we meet them again nine years later (both in the story and real life). They have lives and families, but clearly there is still something between them that is undeniable. Their second encounter was left on something of a cliffhanger.

Now, another nine years later, and we see they’ve started a family of their own. Jesse has divorced his wife (their marriage was on the rocks) and he and Celine now have twin daughters.

The film opens with Jesse putting his 14-year-old son onto a plane from Greece back to Chicago, an act that is killing him inside. Jesse is desperate to be with his son in these formative years, but getting Celine — who is trying to get her own career back on track — to agree to possibly move to the United States will be difficult. The two are at a difficult place in their lives and relationship, and trying to deal with those issues is the heart of the film.

The “Before” films have always essentially been one long conversation with long, uncut shots of Jesse and Celine doing little more than walking and talking or sitting and talking. That’s still mostly the case here, save for some portions in the middle where the two are talking to others separately. But for the most part, this very much retains the spirit of what made the previous films so unique and engaging.

What remains impressive is how organic this relationship feels and how effortlessly Delpy and Hawke have managed to not only slip back into these roles, but to evolve the relationship. This is one of the most, if not the most, realistic dramatic relationships I’ve ever seen in a film, and it’s due entirely to Delpy, Hawke and Linklater.

Delpy and Hawke deserve praise for finding a way to inhabit these characters so fully. There’s simply nothing else quite like watching these two interact. Has an hour-and-a-half conversation between two people ever been so engaging and emotionally involving to watch?

Their chemistry is unlike anything I’ve seen — something that makes the latter portion of “Before Midnight” so heartbreaking to watch at times. Jesse and Celine are going through a rough patch and it’s positively gut-wrenching to listen to some of the things that are said and it simply wouldn’t have the same impact without the history we have with these characters. There’s a real sense of connection here that’s been fostered over the course of these films and it adds a layer of complexity and nuance and texture that I’ve never really been able to experience in a drama before.

Linklater wisely knows when to simply pull his camera back and allow his actors to do what they do best. The smartest move he’s pulled in these three films is to simply provide a window into this relationship. Linklater’s never been one known for a distinct visual style, but the visual warmth of these films has remained notably consistent.

I really can’t stress enough just how great Delpy and Hawke are here, and how wonderful it is just to see these characters further fleshed out. It’s such a rare thing for anyone to be able to return to characters who aren’t attached to a franchise of some sort, and Linklater and company make such strong use of the opportunity they’ve been given. I hope these three keep giving us more of these films for as long as there’s a story to tell.

If you’re interested in seeing “Before Midnight,” I cannot possibly recommend enough that you watch the previous two films first. This entry is certainly enjoyable on its own, but there’s so much more to be taken from it with the proper context.

Sadly, “Before Midnight” only lasted in local theaters for a week before being ousted in favor of more summer blockbusters.

Still, this is one that I simply cannot recommend enough and one that I cannot wait to revisit, a film that will almost certainly end up in my top 10 list for the year.

Grade: A+


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