LIFE TAKES ITS TOLL
Before Midnight Pacific Rim
(M) ★★ National release
✩✩ NE of the supporting characters in Before Midnight shares some information, gleaned from a friend who works as a nurse on a coma ward, that is pertinent to this third instalment in Richard Linklater’s unconventional French-American love story. When women wake from accident-induced unconsciousness, their first thought, apparently, is to ask if their loved ones are OK. Men in the same situation ask if their penis is OK.
I say supporting character because while this film has a lively satellite cast it is all about the two leads, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy). And fans who have been with them since the beginning would be disappointed if it were otherwise.
It comes as a mild surprise to realise that beginning — Before Sunrise — was almost 20 years ago. Linklater’s take on life isn’t going to resonate with everyone, but here he taps a universal feeling: one day you are 20 and have it all before you, the next day, or so it seems, you are 40 and your quiet fear is that most of it is behind you.
In Before Sunrise, which director Linklater cowrote with Kim Krizan, Jesse, an American, and Celine, who is French, meet on a train outward bound from Budapest. Both are headed home, both have suffered a relationship break-up. He persuades her to get off with him in Vienna and they spend the night walking the city, talking, talking, talking and — why not? — falling in love, at least a little. They part but agree to reunite in the same city in six months.
Much of the sparky dialogue in that film was credited to improvisation by the two stars and by the time of the sequel, Before Sunset in 2004, they shared the screenwriting credits with Linklater and Krizan. It’s nine years later in the film’s world, too, and Jesse is a successful writer, having made a splash with an autobiographical novel inspired by his night with Celine. He’s married with a young son. But not to Celine: unforeseen circumstances thwarted their planned rendezvous. Then one day he’s promoting the book in Paris and who is in the audience but Celine, of course. They spend the day together, yakking their heads off, and as night looms end up in a hotel room.
Another nine years on and we have a fair idea of what happened. Jesse and Celine are in their early 40s, are married with twin daughters (aged about 10) and live in Paris. However, the drama of Before Midnight unfolds in picturesque southern Greece, where the couple has been holidaying with their girls and Jesse’s now teenage son Hank. The film opens with Jesse taking Hank to the airport for his flight home to his mother in Chicago. Hawke, in his T-shirt and wispy beard, is spot-on as the half-cool, halfdaggy dad who can’t believe his son has grown up so fast. He wants to be there for him more than he has been and so clumsily raises with Celine the possibility of moving to Chicago, a prospect that thrills her not in the least.
Celine, frustrated in her work as an environmentalist, is considering taking a government job in Paris and she feels a lack of support from Jesse as she weighs this important decision.
And so the trip-wire on which this two-