An older couple sits at a dinner table, listening to the stunning revelation by two young lovers sharing their company: they know their passionate relationship is only a fling and that, over time, they’ll break up and find someone else. The older pair, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) are amazed by the nonchalant, somewhat heartless discussion regarding modern day romance they’re witness to, and for good reason. Celine and Jesse once were in similar positions and, on this particular weekend, they are having a weekend getaway and  time alone from their kids. Once they’re finally away from everyone and can reignite their long held passion for one another, doubts begin to set in. Are they really obligated to remain together, eternally, or is their night out really a parting farewell?

If you’re unaware that Before Midnight is a sequel, you can still enjoy the film as is. However, while it is structured like a stand-alone film and won’t alienate the uninitiated, film buffs who have seen its two predecessors will love it even more. In 1995, Richard Linklater directed Before Sunrise, about an American tourist (Hawke) who coaxes a beautiful French student (Delpy) to leave her train before arriving at its destination and accompany him on a day in Vienna.

The remarkable sequel Before Sunset, was released in 2004 and picked up with Jesse, now a bestselling author, reuniting with Celine and contemplating whether they can pick up where their day-long flirtation left off. Now, Linklater and his co-stars, who all share screenwriting credit, have continued with their ongoing dedication to these characters and made one of the year’s best films and most intoxicating love stories.

Before Midnight, like the two films before it, is dialogue-driven, with most of the film consisting of the two leads wandering around lush European landscapes, lost in colorful, intelligent and wryly amusing conversation. Once again, Linklater and his stars cast a spell so thick, I forgot I was watching a movie about two people having a conversation.

It’s something of a miracle: three movies that, for the most part, are about two people talking, are so funny, endearing and moving. Even if the original remains the best, freshest of what is now a unique, wonderful trilogy, Midnight raises the stakes and is the most dramatic of the three.

Not a repeat of the prior film’s formats, as we now see a different, domesticated take on the ongoing love story, with indecision and expectations once again providing ripe suspense. In its explorations of a modern, committed relationship and the emotionally charged reasons we shouldn’t but do remain together, the film is hip in its deconstruction of love and still potently old fashioned in its romanticism.

This is the funniest, sexiest, wisest of the three films, with two stars who are dazzling at making their performances seem effortless, their every line carefully written but sounding organically stream of conscious. Hawke and Delpy demonstrate a commitment and honesty towards their roles as touching as the loyalty their characters share with one another.

Linklater’s direction is subtle but impressively controlled, once again reminding us that, as the filmmaker behind School of Rock, Dazed and Confused, A Scanner Darkly and Fast Food Nation, there’s no genre he can’t make his own. This is a grand performance piece and he captures it skillfully but unobtrusively.

As I write this, I’m about to celebrate my 10-year wedding anniversary with Julia, the love of my life. At the very least, Before Midnight provided me with yet another reminder that I married the right person.

Score: ***** (1-5 Star Scale)

Rated R

109 min.

Photo: Movieweb

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Written by Barry Wurst

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