Berlin Film Festival review: Before Midnight starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy

4.00

This navel gazing film from Richard Linklater is witty and well written but tries too hard to give the illusion of spontaneity

Before Midnight is the latest collaboration between director Richard Linklater and stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. It comes almost a decade after Before Sunset (2004), which in turn followed on a similar period after Before Sunrise (1995). 

Reflecting the fact that Jesse (Hawke) and Celine (Delpy) are now middle-aged, the new film is far more barbed and cynical than its predecessors. In its darker moments, as the couple bicker relentlessly, this is closer to Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? than to conventional romantic drama. It’s also witty, very well written and surprisingly insightful about the pleasures and pitfalls of long-term relationships.

As the story starts, Jesse (still a successful author) and Celine are on holiday with their twin daughters in an idyllic part of Greece. Jesse has just said goodbye to his son, who is returning home to Chicago where he lives with Jesse’s ex-wife. Celine is about to start a new job in Paris, where they live, but Jesse wants the family to return to the US to be closer to Hank.

Linklater’s storytelling style remains the same as in the first two films. This is a walking and talking movie in which the two leads are on camera together almost all the time. Their main topic of discussion remains themselves. They anatomise their own feelings for one another at inordinate length.

The filmmakers try hard to give the illusion of spontaneity. Delpy and Hawke perform in relaxed, freewheeling style, as if they are making up their dialogue as they go along. In fact, the film is highly stylized. Linklater must have gone to extraordinary pains to shoot the very lengthy single take sequence in which we see Jesse and Celine talking in the car as their sisters sleep in the back seat. It is obvious, too, that Before Midnight has been very carefully scripted.

At times, the navel gazing becomes a little grating. The sequence in which Jesse and Celine have a meal with a Robert Graves-like writer (played by veteran British cinematographer Walter Lassally) verges on the self-indulgent. Some of Jesse’s ruminations on literature and life have an affected quality. What lifts the film is the rapport between the leads and their impeccable comic timing.

In the final part of the film, the couple spend what is supposed to be a romantic night away from their kids in a hotel in a picturesque town. They can’t escape their pathological urge to talk. Even when Celine is topless and they are trying to make love, they end up analyzing their relationship and career plans instead.

The overall point that the film makes is familiar and even trite. When lovers know each other inside out, the familiarity dulls the passion. Celine and Jesse’s capacity to goad and insult each other becomes increasingly evident. If it wasn’t for the humour, there would be a real undertow of viciousness here. In the end, though, the feuding cathartic. We’re never in real doubt about the affection they still feel for one another after all these years.

Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette

film
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
    5 best waterproof cameras

    Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

    Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
    Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

    Louis van Gaal interview

    Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
    Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

    Will Gore: Outside Edge

    The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz