Before Midnight: Third Time’s the Charm


Before Midnight
had its international premiere at the Berlin Film Festival last night, with Texan director Richard Linklater and stars Ethan Hawke (sporting a villainous slicked back bleached hairdo for his play Clive) and the ever-beautiful Julie Delpy in tow. The highly anticipated third installment of Linklater’s walking-and-talking relationship drama features—you guessed it—more walking and talking. But Before Midnight is best of the three by far, with poignancy coming not from the characters’ development over 18 years, but in how the three-way writing team has matured.

Jesse (Hawke) and Celine (Delpy) first met on a train to Vienna (Before Sunrise, 1994) and then re-met in Paris (Before Sunset, 2004). Now in Greece, where the paradise vacation setting is cleverly juxtaposed with references to Greek tragedies and ruins, Jesse and Celine are processing—of course, processing means monologuing—their next-stage problems with a charming mix of self-deprecation, revelation, and humor.

At Before Midnight‘s Berlinale press conference, the intimacy between Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy mirrored that of the characters in the film. They busted each other’s chops, supplied sarcastic retorts, and revealed moments of insecurity. Delpy joked about her “fat ass” (yeah, right) and Hawke said the next installment would be a “full-blown erotica film” that would “push the boundaries of cinema in a pornographic way,” to which Delpy succinctly responded, “I resist”—and later, “Yeah, when I’m 80.”

When asked about Hawke and Delpy’s relationship, Delpy said, “It’s awful. Really.” For his part, Hawke joked, “It’s kind of a mentor-student relationship.”

As with Before Sunset, Hawke, Delpy, and Linklater wrote all the parts in Before Midnight together; and they like to talk about their characters as much as their characters like to talk about themselves. About one argument in the film Delpy said of Celine, “She’s being passive-aggressive—in a cute way.”

“Or so she likes to think,” Hawke rejoined.

With years between each film, they have “the luxury of time,” Linklater said, “to work through all the easy ideas, and dig a little deeper, hopefully.” Far from improvised, the scenes are painstakingly written and rehearsed. There’s no hiding in Linklater’s long takes.

“I couldn’t come up with this kind of argument if I didn’t write it,” said Delpy. “I mean, it took us weeks and weeks of writing to come up with this. I wish I could argue like this!”