Midnight classics: Cowboy, Run, Express and now Before

In 1995, Richard Linkater, an American director of shape-shifting versatility (A Scanner Darkly, School Of Rock), made a film about two inter-railing 20-somethings, Jesse (Hawke) and Celine (Delpy), who are drawn to each other, then go conversing their way around Vienna. And really, that was it. Inevitably they talked their way into each other’s hearts before having to go their separate ways. The naturalistic conversation, the provocative imagery and depth of ideas generated by their conversation, wrapped up in the effortless way in which these actors held our attention, singled the film out from a decade of disaffected youth-relationship drivel. 


In 2004, a chance encounter saw the characters meet in a sequel, Before Sunset. Now in their 30s, Jesse is a relatively successful author and Celine is working as an environmentalist. Jesse is also married, with a son, and the films ends on an ambiguous note for the pair.


Before Midnight sees Jesse and Celine return to our screens, older, wiser and with twin daughters. Now they’re Paris-based but holidaying in Greece. The film begins at the end of summer with Jesse delivering his teenage son to the airport departure lounge. It’s a moving scene, full of the awkward emotional disconnects between father and son. Like the first two films, Midnight is largely without drama in the conventional sense and yet, somehow, remains thoroughly engaging. Talk is never just talk – some of the most potent images, from Jesse as a horny billy goat to Pompeii’s multitudes of preserved dead, are derived from listening rather than watching. When the drama does arrive, it is via the incompatibility of the past with the present. Jesse clearly feels a great amount of guilt over being absent from his son’s life and this often returns to the fore throughout the narrative. 


Time is a driving factor in this third film, as much a central character as the two leads. Like the absent character of Anna in Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura, time informs the entire narrative, it is an unseen, unheard element, but we are constantly aware of its presence and sense its hand in everything. 


The Before trilogy is unique to cinema. Not just technically with their signature long unbroken takes, or the unusual two-handed conversational format, but the serious and truthful way in which these three artists, Delpy, Hawke and Linklater (and previous screenwriter Kim Krazan) collaborate. This time they eschew most of the teenage tingles in favour of bringing the complexities of adult life-sharing to bear. The ambitious scope of the three films has rarely been seen in dramatic cinema.


The closest comparable thing, that I’m aware of, is Ingmar Bergman’s seminal three hour Scenes From A Marriage that traced the cooling, freezing and thawing of an upper middle-class Swedish couple. He also returned to his characters, thirty years later, in his final film: Saraband (2003). It was a fascinating atypical entry in Bergman’s filmography but Linklater’s periodical peeps at Jesse and Celine trump it, if only in terms of connective tissue because Linklater’s revisiting feels integral to the form, whereas Saraband’s 30-year bridge to Scenes, feels more like an afterthought.


I feel fortunate to have seen each Before film at the time of its release, I doubt a binge on all three will be as rewarding as waiting, and crucially living, for nine years between each instalment. The films also function as a mirror for those who have followed them, we reflect on ourselves, just as we note the subtle ways in which nine intervening years have affected the two leads. Perhaps we’ll see a fourth film in 2022 – that’s an appropriately comforting and oddly frightening prospect.


Before Midnight (3)

Dir: Richard Linklater; USA, Drama 2012, 109 mins; Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, Ariane Labed, Walter Lassaly, Yiannis Papadopoulos

Premiered Aug. 22

Playing nationwide

  • How internationals can benefit from joining trade unions

    How internationals can benefit from joining trade unions

    Being part of a trade union is a long-established norm for Danes. But many internationals do not join unions – instead enduring workers’ rights violations. Find out how joining a union could benefit you, and how to go about it.

  • Internationals in Denmark rarely join a trade union

    Internationals in Denmark rarely join a trade union

    Internationals are overrepresented in the lowest-paid fields of agriculture, transport, cleaning, hotels and restaurants, and construction – industries that classically lack collective agreements. A new analysis from the Workers’ Union’s Business Council suggests that internationals rarely join trade unions – but if they did, it would generate better industry standards.

  • Novo Nordisk overtakes LEGO as the most desirable future workplace amongst university students

    Novo Nordisk overtakes LEGO as the most desirable future workplace amongst university students

    The numbers are especially striking amongst the 3,477 business and economics students polled, of whom 31 percent elected Novo Nordisk as their favorite, compared with 20 percent last year.