For a film that relies almost exclusively on dialogue (the rapport of Delpy and Hawke cannot be left aside), I’m stumbling to explain it.
Hawke and Delpy play Jesse and Celine, two people who met 18 years ago, by chance, on a train from Budapest. They clicked and spent a day together, but other obligations forced them to part, agreeing to meet again in six months. Nine years later, Jesse is a renowned novelist following the publication of his book This Time, based on his day with Celine.
On tour in Paris, he delivers a reading at Shakespeare and Company and sees her in the crowd. Once again, their time together is limited, but the flame is immediately rekindled. It’s revealed that they never met after those six months; Jesse is now married, albeit unhappily, and stays with his wife because of his son. Celine is in a similarly unhappy relationship, and…
…and Midnight picks up nine years after that. Jesse and Celine are now married, living in Europe, and raising their two daughters.
Jesse is divorced from his first wife and trying to maintain a relationship with his son, who’s spent the summer with his father, and we pick up with the two at the airport. Jesse plays the overly worried father, making sure his son has enough to eat on his flight and pushing him to put down his game console and read a book and all those things parents press on their kids while they’re a hair’s breadth away from admitting that they wouldn’t themselves. Driving home with Celine and their daughters, Jesse wishes out loud that he could spend more time with his son while Celine tries to turn the discussion toward her new career.
Those who’ve seen the previous two films in the series, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset will know the…I don’t want to say “formula” because that term implies a lack of originality and a sense of dishonesty, but the format is basically the dialogue between the two. They cover their professional lives, their personal cares and concerns, their reminisces, their future, their present.
The originality comes from the two doing most of the talking, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, as Jesse and Celine, roles they’ve played on and off for 18 years. Much of the dialogue is inspired from their real lives, so it makes sense that they share the writing credit with director Richard Linklater, and every syllable that spits, drips, rings, shoots, and slithers from their mouths resounds. Everything, from the quibbles and the fights, the worries and fears, embraces both affectionate and passionate, jokes and jabs is genuine.
Now in their 40s, with their idealistic and occasionally narcissistic years far behind and their responsibilities clear, they talk like adults. I would expect there to be at least a glimmer of pretense or a slightly elevated style to every speech, but there is none. They encourage a younger couple and address the cracks in their own relationship, fight and make up, and…I could go on listing off the topics covered, the ups and downs of the conversation, but I can’t here replicate the energy and weight. It’s just endlessly compelling to watch these two people speak honestly to each other.