Before Midnight

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As a researcher, my interests lie in screen distribution and exhibition. I rarely write about individual films. But when I heard about the pending release of Before Midnight, I was excited to say the least.

Before Midnight is the third installment of Richard Linklater‘s series of romantic dramas that began with Before Sunrise in 1995 and continued with Before Sunset in 2004. The films follow the eighteen year, on-off relationship between an American writer, Jesse (played by Ethan Hawke) and a French woman, Celine (played by Julie Delpy).

In Before Sunrise, Jesse and Celine meet by chance on a train in Europe and spend a single evening together in Vienna. They are then in their early twenties. Nine years later in Before Sunset, having married or settled down with other people, they reunite in Paris for an afternoon. In Before Midnight, we meet the two again in Greece, and it’s clear that their lives have changed. Jesse is divorced from his wife, and Celine is caring for twin girls.

According to a recent interview with Hawke, expectations of the film were running so high following the second installment that production of the third installment was deliberately kept under wraps. Before Midnight was one of the most anticipated titles at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where it was eventually acquired for distribution by Sony Pictures Classics. A limited release in the U.S. is planned for May 24.

There are other indicators of the series’ unusual resonance with its audience. One of the these is the volume of critical writing, and depth of feeling, that Before Sunrise and especially Before Sunset have inspired.

The films are distinctive for their cooperative mode of screenwriting (Hawke and Delpy are credited as writers in Before Sunset and Before Midnight); the remarkable naturalism of the dialogue and acting; the long-take camera work creating the illusion of real time; and the films’ philosophical bent and refusal of narrative closure. However, as this review of Before Sunset by Chris Wisniewski in Reverse Shot observes, they are also personal touchstones for many fans.

I’m looking forward to spending cinematic time with Jesse and Celine again. Variety reviewer Justin Chang has predicted here that Before Midnight will send established and new audiences for the films “into the emotional stratosphere.” Heady words, indeed.

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