Friday, December 6, 2013

Before Midnight (Richard Linklater)

A Greek dramedy.

We have ventured with them through the streets of Vienna and tagged along on their reflective walk one Parisian afternoon. Jesse and Celine, as far as modern cinematic couples are concerned, is indeed the thinking man/woman's love team, thanks to Richard Linklater's deeply contemplative yet very entertaining style of writing. And after all these years, the first film, "Before Sunrise", still stands tall as a wonderful testament of how bittersweet a happenstance romance can be, while "Before Sunset" effortlessly goes to show how a hyper-idealized overnight love can completely change when, paraphrasing Jason Silva, lovers finally go their separate ways and return to their respective task-based existence. 

9 years ago, we were left to draw our own conclusions regarding what can happen to Jesse and Celine and whether or not their picture-perfect romance can carry itself away from the pragmatic hassles of reality, as Jesse is after all already married and has a son. Finally, though, we now have the answer in the form of "Before Midnight": the final chapter to the 'Jesse and Celine' saga. Yeah, that totally sounded like an epic superhero film.

In this film, Jesse and Celine are on a Greek getaway, and this time, it's not, in any way, a happenstance encounter but an official family vacation (along with their twin daughters). Yes, here in "Before Midnight", Jesse and Celine is finally (and permanently) together, albeit unmarried. Not the exact set-up you might expect if you think of an ideal kind of love, but hey, better to have that than nothing at all. Sure, both of them were physically withered by age quite a bit, but the energy of how they connect with each other is just as fresh and young as the moment when they first met in a sleepy train ride back in Vienna. "Before Midnight", with its preservation of Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy's on-screen chemistry that spans close to two decades, delivers just the right amount of ups and downs, romance-wise, to leave unto us a feeling that we've just been witnesses to what may be the closest cinema has gotten in perfectly capturing the essence of a flawed but nonetheless true kind of love.

Comparatively speaking, watching "Before Midnight" in all its sexual innuendos, hurtful gender slurs, and overwhelming pragmatism makes "Before Sunrise" and "Before Sunset" seem like two innocent younger brothers who have just gotten out of the house long enough to frolic freely in the streets for a while. Simply put, "Before Midnight" looks just like the big brother who has finally arrived to fetch his younger siblings so that he can smack some sense into them that no, it should never be all play. Though the film is still ripe with nostalgic talks about time in relation to love and love in relation to life at large and all that idealizing romantic bull, it's more clear on what it wants to examine, and that is the separation of love from the conundrums of life and vice versa. Unlike the first two films which seem to indulge only on reflections about what can be and what could have been between Jesse and Celine, "Before Midnight" is the realistic wake-up call that things are bound to inevitably fall apart. 

With Richard Linklater on the helm and on scribe duty, it's not a surprise that the film is just as layered as the first two films. This time, though, everything seems to be very much at stake, as both Jesse and Celine, for the first time in their screen lives, are quite careening into an emotional climax that may just be as explosive as the one in "The Avengers". Are we going to see them just as strong as before? Or, as surreal as it may sound, are we going to see them bitterly part ways? In ways more than one, "Before Midnight" is the maturation that we've all been waiting for and are unconsciously dying to see, because as much as it feels good to see them together at the end of "Before Sunset", it's still an altogether different kind of ballgame to tackle the all too real things (such as career conflicts, priorities, and family) that go along with love like prickly bonus items. And for that, I guess Linklater has nothing short of done something that makes me believe that, no, the telling of great love stories in films is yet to run its course. On the other hand, though, it's sad to think that to make me believe just that, it has to be done by ending one of the bestest modern ones there is. 

Like a more optimistic and infinitely more humorous "Scenes from a Marriage", "Before Midnight" is an extraordinary film that will force you to think twice about being married, but at the same time will convince you to just hold on to the imperfect truth that holds two people together like Velcro. And as Jesse and Celine struggle through a mudflow of insecurities, misled accusations, and complex decisions, the Velcro still sticks, and neither of them know the definite reason how and why save for the fact that, well, it just does. And remember what Celine was repeatedly saying while watching the sun set? "Still there." In the end, perhaps she can say the same to the love that she and Jesse have stumbled upon one fateful day in Vienna nearly 20 years ago; a kind that they thought would only be nothing but a fling, only to find out that there's definitely more to it than the aimless walks through cobblestone streets.

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