Who would have guessed, almost two decades after Before Sunset, the slight but charming semi-improvised almost-romance in which they first met, that we would get to spend another day and night in the company of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy)?
It is one of the themes of this talkative couple's third film outing that the paths which we take through life are necessarily unpredictable; that love stories and fairy tales are hardly ever the same thing. But at the same time, Before Midnight is also a testament to the enduring nature of that intangible quality we call screen chemistry.
Despite the fact that we only ever get to see them during breaks from their day-to-day lives, we wholeheartedly believe in these characters and their history. And we want their relationship to work all the more for the fact that Before Midnight takes a pragmatic view of long-term affairs and deals in mid-life frustrations and disappointment.
The first half of the film consists of funny and free-ranging conversations about literature, technology, and generational and gender differences, before simmering resentments are brought to a boil and it turns into Gen-X's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – long takes, one-room setting and queasy intimacy all included. As with the previous films in the trilogy, it ends on an open note.
But whether or not Jesse and Céline will be able to negotiate the difficulties of their relationship, Before Midnight will remain their most complex, mature and rewarding film.