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Before Midnight

One of the great movie romances of the modern era achieves its richest and fullest expression in “Before Midnight.” Exquisite, melancholy, hilarious and cathartic, Richard Linklater’s third walking-and-talking collaboration with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy turns a summer night’s Grecian idyll into an essay on the joys and frustrations of long-term commitment and parenthood. Answering the question of whether we needed another date with Jesse and Celine with a resounding yes, this wise and wondrously intimate picture should sendviewers into the emotional stratosphere.

If 1994′s “Before Sunrise” was a touching paean to possibility and 2004′s “Before Sunset” a piercing ode to regret, then “Before Midnight” encompasses all these feelings and more within a full-bodied portrait of a devoted couple facing early middle-age. A marvel of narrative compression, the screenplay is equal parts naturalism and exposition, strategically updating the audience on the characters’ busy lives while keeping immediacy and spontaneity at the fore.

To cut to the chase, American novelist Jesse (Hawke) is now divorced and living in Paris with Celine (Delpy) and their twin daughters (young Jennifer and Charlotte Prior). It’s the last day of a blissful summer vacation in Greece for the whole family. The film slips effortlessly into the duo’s immediately recognizable back-and-forth rhythms. Here again is the vivacious, neurotic Celine, mercilessly ribbing the sensitive, grizzled Jesse about his annoying habits while he teases her with a what-me-worry grin. They are, as the two earlier movies have shown, an improbably fun couple to be around. But “Before Midnight” digs deeper.

As the two walk together on their last night in Greece, they begin a conversation that harks back to the pivotal moments of “Sunrise” and “Sunset,” abounding in hypothetical musings of what might or might not have been. Yet the memories of the past soon give way to the worries of the present as the script unleashes its piece de resistance, a doozy of a conversation that unfolds entirely, over at least half an hour, within the tight confines of their hotel suite. The resulting duologue is one for the actors’ handbooks, so furious are the accusations and recriminations that fly as the two dredge up some 20 years’ worth of history. Remarkably, the scene’s carefully modulated intensity only heightens the comedy as Celine and especially Jesse work in zinger after zinger.

Honoring all that was memorable about its forebears while taking the story to new depths of catharsis, “Before Midnight” stands as a unique and uniquely satisfying entry in what has shaped up to be an outstanding screen trilogy. Inadvisable though it may be to go in cold, the film’s more robust content provides strong entry points for viewers meeting these characters for the first time.

Delivering vanity-free turns in which no apparent effort has been made to disguise wrinkles or sagging eyelids, the actors have melded so completely with their roles as to seem incapable of a false note. - Variety

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Before Midnight

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