Thursday, June 27, 2013


... Linklater's remarkable Before Midnight, specifically. (Though if I can point anyone in the direction of Mitchell Leisen's excellent 1939 Midnight as well, I'll consider it a fine day's work.) I haven't blogged much at all lately but I figured I'd revise slightly some things I wrote on Before Midnight elsewhere and repurpose them here.

Having only seen the movie once, and been run through an emotional wringer by it, what I can muster at this point are broad thematic generalities and little touches. I can't focus much more than this without more time & viewings.

I love how Hawke & Delpy have aged, how we might compare their bodies to 9 and 18 years ago. The sense of disappointment, of a flame that's burned into little stubborn embers, is crucial here because the feeling of an undeniable and irresistible chemistry is what animated the first two films. But Before Midnight is about what happens after the happily ever after. That particular youthful spark of attraction is never going to outweigh all the mess of Life. But what the film does brilliantly is re-animate this spark through the tool of dialogue - the thing which first drew Jesse and Celine together. And I think that the middle scenes of the movie are important because they show this act of dialogue dispersed: we see Jesse and Celine interacting with other people (on their own or together in a bigger group) far more than in the previous two films. Constant conversation remains, but the mode is different. And so when this couple is semi-forced onto their romantic evening together, their conversation is no longer romantic per se. It's lived through too much stress, too many uncertainties; it's gotten used to the thing that used to be mere backburner fantasy for either one of them.

So what I find very moving is that the ambulatory conversations between Jesse and Celine (or about themselves as they speak to other characters) are motivated less about a mutual sense of discovery, enchantment, and adventure ... and are predicated more on knowing each other too well. Most of the only surprises left are dark or disappointing ones. In Before Sunset, I recall a moment during a cab ride where Jesse was looking out the window and Celine reached out to touch him but drew back her hand right away as he turned to her again. (Perhaps I've switched who did what here...) The romance came easy then, but now similar mismatches between the two are instead constant signs of how the romance isn't running smoothly. The interruptions aren't "what if they connected, and could be happy?" but instead, "why can't they just keep sustaining the illusion of a romantic evening together, damn it?"

[Side note: I still believe that one could append the titles of Bunuel films to each of the movies in this trilogy. For Before Sunrise, Cela s'appelle l'aurore. For Before Sunset, The River and Death. For Before Midnight ... well, it could truthfully be any one of Bunuel's last three, but I suspect That Obscure Object of Desire is best.]

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